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Responsibility the watchword at WGES 2017 event

4th July 2017 4:39 pm GMT

The first day of a conference is usually focused on opportunities in new markets but this year’s World Gaming Executive Summit event in Barcelona was dominated by talk of social responsibility.

In the last edition of our sister publication GIQ Magazine, we provided an in-depth introduction to corporate social responsibility. It is now proving to be a key topic of discussion at this year’s WGES event.

In a presentation to delegates UK Gambling Commission executive director of corporate affairs and research Tim Miller described social responsibility as key to the industry’s longevity. Readers may have found it similar to our feature with Miller highlighting the worsening perception of gambling, and emphasising the need for companies to do what customers and society expect, and not just what’s legally required.

However Miller went further, linking this worsening perception to new and direct consumer action being taken against businesses seen to be harming or not contributing to society. This may be an extreme example, he was quick to note, but at a time when populism is thriving, causes can be adopted or co-opted.

This was picked up in a later session, focused on CSR, by Caesars Entertainment executive vice president of corporate affairs and social responsibility Jan Jones Blackhurst. She argued that an unending cycle has begun.

“The reason we are always over-regulated and compliance-focused is that people always expect us to do harm,” she says. “How the industry does business is constantly being revised and redrawn. The industry doesn’t know how to tell a story that explains the complexity of the way it operates.”

Gambling companies fail to explain adequately to consumers and governments how they benefit the areas in which they operate. This may be by creating jobs, generating money for charitable or social causes, or simply offering a diverse workplace.

Both Miller and Jones Blackhurst reached similar conclusions. Companies need to ensure they are doing good, communicating the fact they are doing socially responsible things, and constantly evaluate such measures to ensure they are effective.

Looking specifically at the UK market, Miller said that operators need to examine their responsible gambling strategies. Too much onus is placed on the individual consumer to monitor their own behaviour, and not enough on the measures put in place by the operators, he said.

It all comes down to “listening to voices from society”, he explained. To improve a company’s or industry’s perception, work needs to be done to address all concerns. He should know, before joining the UKGC he was head of policy and communications for the Local Government Ombudsman, and before that was head of public affairs at the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

“I know the power of complaint,” he told his audience.

And how to address these concerns? Create a business that consumers can trust, and rebuild the social contract between gambling companies and the general public.

Jones Blackhurst picked up on the benefits of this approach. The general reaction to concerns about a company’s ethical standards is to increase regulation. The more a sector is trusted, the less nervous regulators will be. She believes that if companies invest as much in CSR as they do in compliance, operators will no longer have to “beg” for licences in new jurisdictions.

Even for a company as committed to CSR as Caesars, however, this is an ongoing fight. The US Human Rights Commission rates companies on their equal rights and representation policies. Caesars was the first to be given full marks. But few would say that it has the sort of squeaky clean reputation that Jones Blackhurst is aiming to create.

WGES featured the usual discussions on regulating and soon-to-regulate markets but this year feels different. Presentations on new markets often referred to governmental and social suspicion of gambling as a key stumbling block. As Jones Blackhurst said, there is again this assumption that gambling companies are going to cause harm.

There is a far greater focus on looking ahead to future challenges and tackling existing problems, and social responsibility almost always comes up as a preferable solution.

A presentation by Casinos Austria’s head of corporate governance coordination and compliance Michael Mrak on the European Union’s new data protection standards (GDPR) also touched upon it. Mrak argued that preparing for these new controls should ultimately not be too much of a concern.

Companies should already have in place internal guidelines for data protection, he said. These should be based on external regulations, while also taking into account a company’s values or ethos.

This code of how to do business should ultimately act as the first line of defence against changes to regulation or laws, Mrak explained, it shouldn’t be a case of pursuing incentives to implement new procedures or avoiding sanctions for not doing so.

It may only be the conference’s first day but a change is palpable. The industry is no longer talking about what it has to do to meet minimum regulatory standards, but how to ensure it is trusted and contributing to the areas in which it operates.

“The industry needs to make people presume it will do good, rather than assume it will do wrong,” added Jones Blackhurst. Expect to hear a lot more on CSR at all the gaming events from now on.

rhm@gamingintelligence.com

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