What are the odds? Bookie bosses create voluntary watchdog

16 September 2014 -


Chief execs at William Hill, Ladbrokes, Gala-Coral and Paddy Power have joined forces to boost standards in their industry – but critics cry “PR exercise”

Jermaine Haughton

Bosses at four, leading high-street bookmakers have voluntarily formed a new regulation group aimed at tackling public concerns over the widespread advertisement of gambling services. Their firms William Hill, Ladbrokes, Gala-Coral and Paddy Power have also announced plans to remove ads for sign-up offers from the pre-9pm TV schedule, and pull gaming-machines out of betting shop windows. Instead, from 1 October they will dedicate shop space to featuring messages on responsible gambling.

Fixed-odds betting machines have particularly come under fire during the past decade, with anti-gambling campaigners warning of their addictive nature in parallel with a proliferation of the terminals in betting shops in poor inner-city areas. Furthermore, free betting offers – popularised in accordance with a liberalisation of gambling advertisements since 2007 – have opened up the market in online sports betting.

With all this in mind, the quartet of top bookies has set up the Senet Group, named after an Ancient Egyptian game of chance, which will oversee the reforms by carrying out bespoke, independent tests and enforcing other codes of practice. Reflecting the gambling industry’s emphasis on increasing the safety of its services, the four founding parties plan to appoint an independent Standards Commissioner for the Senet Group, via a transparent process run on Nolan Principles. In addition, the four bosses are inviting other operators to join them in their pledge to high standards and commitment to responsible gambling.

In a statement, Gala-Coral CEO Carl Leaver said: “I am proud of the fact that we are taking a lead on this issue. Millions of people get a great deal of enjoyment from our products and the service that we provide. The right to have a bet is an important freedom and must be balanced by our responsibility to protect vulnerable people.”

The industry’s move marks a stark difference to comments from leading bookmakers in April, which argued there was no evidence to suggest that gaming machines were causing an increase in problem gambling. However, the urgency with which some of the country’s biggest bookmakers have moved to self-regulate suggests a fear of regulation from outside parties – particularly the government. That wake-up call was provided in the Spring when the government announced that local authorities would be given more power to control the number of betting shops opening in their areas, with advertising and machines also on the radar of concerns.

Against the backdrop of the Senet Group’s formation, vested interests in the media industry are still bartering over the future of press regulation, following the Leveson Inquiry. Indeed, the development of new self-regulation body the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has already been dubbed a sham by critics who feel that the industry has narrowly escaped full-blown government oversight.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFG) is among a clutch of groups who have launched similar accusations against the Senet Group. Former Birmingham University student Matt Zarb-Cousin blew £20,000 on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in high-street bookies, and was driven to the point where he considered taking his own life. Now a CFG representative, Zarb-Cousin says he has little faith that the creation of the Senet Group and its accompanying measures will have any positive impact on the battle to fight gambling addiction in poor, low-income areas. “These measures look like a PR exercise rather than an attempt to help young and vulnerable people,” he told the BBC, “because the central issue of the high stakes on FOBT machines isn’t being addressed.”

Read this CMI blog on ethical standards in management.

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