1. Tell us about the new Responsible Gambling Directory tool that you built, what does it do and why did you create this?
The Responsible Gambling Directory (RGD) is exactly what it sounds like, a directory of organisations that offers support or services intended to help people impacted by gambling addiction or minimise gambling harms.
Our teams have put in a lot of work researching to find as many different organisations as possible. The industry is good at providing information on the big names in the sectors - GamCare and Gamblers Anonymous etc - but these groups don't support everyone in every country. The RGD is intended to help people find support agencies that can actually offer support to them, so shows the organisations that can help people from the user's country. With over 1k organisations included in the RGD, this tool provides comprehensive information to support vulnerable people, broken down into types of support and country and sometimes state, to help users find what they need quickly and easily.
The concept for the RGD actually predates BetBlocker. Around 2015 while I was managing ThePOGG.com. I always viewed Responsible Gambling as a priority when running the business. Gambling is a risk based activity and I do feel that it's the responsibility of those who offer or advertise gambling to take steps to minimise harms associated with the product they promote. This was a huge undertaking however and we never managed to get to it back then.
The RGD has come back to the forefront because of BetBlocker. BetBlocker provides service to anyone, anywhere in the world. We're contacted by users from all over the world on a daily basis. BetBlocker is a great tool to help people manage or restrict their access to gambling. But we're well aware that BetBlocker is only part of the solution. Blocking software is far more effective when used in conjunction with other forms of support like national self-exclusion schemes, support groups and counselling. We wanted to put together a resource to help BetBlocker users find other forms of support. I was thrilled when the current management of ThePOGG wanted to support the development of this tool.
2. You're planning to give the Responsible Gambling Directory away to other organisations. Why?
As I mentioned, compiling this resource was a huge undertaking. Expecting every business or charity in the gambling industry to do this work individually is both illogical and a horrible duplication of work. We want as many people to be able to access this information as possible. So during the planning stage for this project we decided we were going to provide branded versions of the RGD to any charity, regulatory or public educator for free. And we also decided that we'd offer branded versions of the tool to any business that makes an annual donation to support BetBlocker.
3. You are also the founder of BetBlocker. Did your work in running thepogg.com help come up with this idea and why did you create it?
Yes. After the UKGC license came into force, we saw an increasing number of complaints from players relating to Responsible Gambling. As the Dispute Manager for ThePOGG this trend made me want to find information or resources that we could direct these players to. The tool that I immediately wanted to put at the top of the list was blocking software. It just seemed like the most common sense first step to managing problem gambling. When I started looking around, I was surprised to see that all of the available blocking softwares were subscription bases. While I certainly understand the realities of producing a product like blocking software, paywalls between those experiencing gambling harm and support only guarantee that those that most need the support are also least likely to be able to access it.
Talking with John Wright and expressing frustration about this dynamic, John suggested that we should look to develop our own blocking software and give it away for free. We were somewhat naive in our assumptions of how easily we would be able to achieve this objective, and ultimately broke BetBlocker off into a charity in its own right in 2019 due to the ongoing expense of sustaining the project, but BetBlocker did gestate in ThePOGG.
4. I know in working with you that you've received numerous letters from problem gamblers thanking you for making BetBlocker. Can you tell us some of those stories and what they mean to you?
The BetBlocker team regularly receives thank you messages from our users. They mean a great deal to us. We don't interact with our users all that often. When BetBlocker functions as it should the user should be able to use the app completely anonymously. The majority of people that we do interact with have had some technical issues and need support. Where our users instead choose to reach out to tell us about the difference the app has made to their lives, it is a bright beacon for us, giving us a window into the positive difference that the app makes to people.
A couple of months ago our support team forwarded a message to me. It contained photos of a hand written letter that the partner of one of our users had written to us. I'm not going to go into the details of what this letter shared, that is a very personal story that is not mine to share, but this person felt compelled to hand write a letter to us detailing their experiences with gambling addiction and how installing BetBlocker on their partner's devices had given hope back to their lives. I would challenge anyone not to be profoundly moved to be told that the actions you've taken have made that much of a difference to another person in the darkest moments of their life. Of course I understood the practical objectives that we were trying to achieve when we started BetBlocker, but being confronted with the reality of how the service helps people was something I was never prepared for. BetBlocker is the best thing I have done, or will ever do.
5. There seems to be a growing trend for iGaming affiliates and operators to focus more on responsible gambling. Do you think the industry is finally waking up to the importance of addressing this within?
While you'll never hear me say that there is not more work to do, I do think there is a growing trend within the industry towards prioritising responsible gambling. Within the regulated markets specifically I feel this is becoming evident. The UK specifically has undergone a pronounced change since Covid and the lockdowns. With the restrictions on TV advertising during lockdown, most of the major brands switched their approach to advertising their responsible gambling tools. What is really interesting is that now that the lockdowns have ended and these restrictions are no longer in place, it's unusual to see a TV advert that does not place a focus on gambling responsibly.
Only time will tell, but in my opinion this represents a potential paradigm shift. The industry has started to wake up to the fact that being seen to be a responsible social citizen and working to protect your players is actually good for business. When players play within safe limits, they are customers for longer. When operators are seen to work to protect vulnerable players their brand builds trust and credibility. This is a win/win for everyone, so I certainly hope that the patterns we've seen developing over the last few years continue on into the future.
The affiliate market is some way behind but, again in my opinion, you are starting to see a small number of affiliates starting to put together projects specifically focused on responsible gambling. And that's a positive.
6. iGaming is a relatively new industry in the United States in regards to just being recently regulated. What do you think the US needs to do in regards to looking after players?
That's a HUGE question. It would be great to see a more unified approach being taken in the United States. At the moment the support for vulnerable players varies vastly from state to state. Some states are so far ahead of the curve, challenging even the more mature EU markets in the resources they provide to players. Other states offer very little or no support for gambling addiction.
I would like to see more states offering statewide self-exclusion programs, both offline and online where relevant. And I would really like to see the barriers between players and self-exclusion being removed. Many of the statewide programs that are currently offered require the person to turn up at a designated office, often inside a gambling facility, with government issued ID and fill out a lengthy form detailing their desire to be excluded. While this is certainly better than nothing, that's an awful lot to ask someone who is likely embarrassed and ashamed to go through. Someone who may well be prone to quickly changing their mind as the urge to keep gambling resurfaces. This is reminiscent of the past online where some operators would insist on a player downloading a form, printing it out, signing it and returning it to the operator before they would consider applying a self-exclusion. It's been widely accepted by this point that best practice is to make self-exclusion systems as easy to access as possible and it would be great to see the US self-exclusion systems learn from the lessons that the remote industry has learned over the last two and a half decades.