Backlash Against UK Gambling Provides Cautionary Tale For US Sports Betting Market

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UK gambling

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) recently joined the growing chorus of anti-gambling rhetoric in the UK.

In a letter sent to five of the largest UK operators, the head of mental health services in England, Claire Murdoch, said the link between betting and mental illness was “increasingly clear.”

Murdoch called for an end to free bets, saying they drew people back into “the vicious gambling cycle, which many want to escape.”

The letter was sent to the CEOs of William Hill, bet365, GVC, Betfred and Flutter. All of those companies are expanding operations into the nascent US market as well.

What does this mean for the US? Sports betting is a shiny new toy with mushrooming revenues. But as highlighted recently, a focus on sustainability in the short term may pay dividends for the entire industry in the long run.

NHS sees ‘disturbing links’ between gambling, sport

Murdoch also highlighted the recent controversy around live streaming, where some FA Cup soccer matches were only available to view via bookmaker websites.

She added: “The links between the sporting industry and gambling are deeply disturbing, and the tactics used by some firms are shameful.”

Industry trade body Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) released a letter of its own in response to the NHS. It outlined some of the recent strides made around problem gambling and proposed a meeting with Murdoch.

The letter is the latest attack on the gambling industry following the streaming row and a ban on credit card betting also announced earlier this month.

Is the UK online gambling backlash justified?

The gambling industry historically has not protected vulnerable customers the way it should. It invited much of the media attention onto itself through the volume of advertising around sport, reminiscent of the 2015 DFS ad wars between DraftKings and FanDuel.

However, as the BGC noted, the industry also underwent a major transformation in recent years. This includes advertising restrictions, more funding for problem gambling treatment and the development of algorithms to identify at-risk players.

These changes, however, have done little to rebuild public trust. It is a sign of the times that simply streaming football matches became a national issue, even eliciting a statement from the Prime Minister.

Gambling operators need to collaborate

Part of the problem is the historical responsibility failures, but the industry also lacked a unified voice until the launch of the BGC in November last year.

That body is staffed with lobbyists and experts from other “vice” industries, like alcohol.

It’s fair to wonder if they underestimated quite the level of vitriol against the industry.