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Following a tumultuous two years due to swift changes brought about by the pandemic, industry heavyweights within the iGaming space have come together to pen an article on how they believe a stronger culture for safer gambling can be fostered.

COVID-19 impacted the betting community in a number of ways, with land-based, sports betting taking a hit, but online activity skyrocketing.

As customers have had to contend with lockdowns, quarantine, event cancellations and isolation since March 2020, the need for entertainment skyrocketed.

Indeed, according to Statista.com, the online gambling industry grew from $58.9 billion (€50.3 billion) in 2019 to $66.7 billion (€56.9 billion) in 2020.

A rise in problem gambling

The pandemic caused major increases in online activity across the board, due to enforced isolation, quarantine and lockdowns. Therefore, despite a dip in land-based betting and sports betting – due to the closure of major sporting events such as Europe’s national football leagues and the closure of non-essential businesses such as casinos – many gamblers turned to the online betting community as a substitute.

Among those who work in the safe gambling space, this has been viewed as a worrying trend, as research has shown that people who gamble online are associated with higher rates of problem gambling than people who visit land-based outlets.

Reacting to the changing trends brought on by the pandemic, John Coates, Joint CEO – bet365, Jesper Svensson, CEO – Betsson, Jette Nygaard-Andersen, CEO – Entain Group,

Henrik Tjärnström, CEO – Kindred Group and Patrick Jonker, CEO – Mr Green Ltd and Managing Director – William Hill International came together to outline their vision for safer gambling.

“The quick growth of Europe’s online gambling sector has been part of the wider transformation of digital entertainment, with consumer behaviours growing online. This global trend not only provides the opportunity to offer a more accessible and tailored customer experience, but also opens up opportunities to make gambling safer and more sustainable.

“As Europe’s leading online gambling operators, we have always strived to be at the forefront of this transformation of our industry and to continually test and challenge ourselves as well as raising the bar in industry standards,” they wrote.

Raising the bar for safer gambling

The executives wrote that they believe it is their responsibility to provide customers with information and innovative tools to help them gamble safely.

The CEOs look towards predictive modelling as a key game changer in providing a safer experience:

“Along with greater cooperation across the sector and with regulatory authorities, we are convinced that the use of predictive modelling, the latest innovations in technology and greater access to data will help operators to raise the bar and reduce harmful gambling.”

They wrote that one of the most striking examples is the use of online data to identify problem gambling patterns at an earlier stage. Acknowledging that problem gambling has often been considered a silent harm as it goes undetected for some time, the CEOs believe “a monumental shift” is taking place in this regard.

“…Game-changing technology is allowing us to detect the subtle changes in behaviour which may suggest a customer is experiencing or is at risk of gambling harm. This not only helps us provide more accurate and timely support to these customers, but it is also an opportunity for the industry to support and collaborate with the academic research community, as well as experts by experience, towards a better understanding of harmful gambling and how it develops.”

Supporting Europe’s sports ecosystem

The CEOs says another of their ambitions is to contribute towards a more positive future for society by embracing the ongoing process of locally regulated online gambling markets, “as they provide legal clarity and structure, both for customers and operators”.

They go on to say that the regulation of local online gambling markets has allowed operators to contribute to state coffers and employment.

Setting a high bar and tracking progress

The challenge today, the CEOs write, is to ensure that gambling regulation in Europe, and elsewhere, provides a framework in which responsibility is incentivised through regulations that cater for a competitive market, and where rogue behavior by operators is discouraged and punished.

“With this first sustainability report (recently published by the European Gambling and Betting Association) we want to be transparent about what we are doing to support a responsible and sustainable online gambling sector in Europe.”

Praising the report, the CEOs said that ridding society of problem gambling will require fact-based, open and constructive dialogue in and outside the gambling/betting ecosystem, including with licensed operators, game developers, regulators, policymakers, payment providers, health experts and more.

“Our collective ambition is to foster a strong culture of sustainable gambling across our industry, one that strives to innovate and exceed expectations, and which supports a sustainable and long-term regulatory framework for the sector. Because one customer harmed from gambling is one too many, there cannot be any other alternative. We want all customers to have a safe and fun online gambling experience where they play within their means and consider gambling for what it is – a great form of entertainment.”

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