UK Online Gambling Sites Pressed to Help Prevent Addiction

By Paul Gaita 12/05/14

Restrictions and tax increases have prompted UK-based sites to help compulsive gamblers overcome their addiction.

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Though a recent study by Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addiction found that online casinos do not cause an increase in addiction to gambling, the owners of UK-based gambling sites are reacting to a backlash against the £6.3 billion industry by members of the media and political parties, which have placed both tax increases and restrictions on betting shops.

A coalition of the leading companies established its own watchdog organization, the Senet Group, which will assist them in making good on a number of initiatives designed to appease both the anti-gambling faction and the public at large. The coalition, which includes the three largest bookmaking organizations—William Hill, Ladbrokes and Gala Carol—have pledged to remove advertising for touch-screen roulette machines from their stores and dedicate space on their sites to responsible gambling messages. The companies have also agreed to show fewer television ad spots that promise “free bets” or “free money” to viewers before 9 p.m., and will fund an educational advertising campaign focusing on gambling addiction issues.

Both Hill and Ladbrokes are working to develop an online algorithm strategy that can identify addictive gambling behavior. Substantial behavioral changes in online play would trigger the algorithm to direct interventional actions towards players that would range from warning messages to contact by addiction specialists, as well as play restriction and account suspension. Response to the initiatives has generated largely negative responses from gambling industry watchdog groups.

“The bookmakers are engaging in desperate conjuring tricks to protect their FOBT (fixed odds betting terminals) market monopoly and, put simply, this is just more smoke and mirrors,” said a spokesperson from the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, a non-profit organization co-founded by former professional poker player Derek Webb.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.