Pieter Remmers, one of the world’s leading safer gambling experts and a member of the MERKUR 360 Advisory Board, traces the development of safer gambling and argues why a long-term strategy will keep gambling sustainable.
You are recognised as being one of the foremost safer gambling/social responsibility experts in the world – when and how did you first get involved in the space and what was the industry’s attitude towards safer gambling then?
It was in the late 1980’s and I was director of an outpatient treatment centre named Jellinek for people with addiction problems in the Netherlands and at the same time running a number of ‘commercial’ projects with industry including Employee Assistance Programmes such as alcohol and drugs problems in the workplace. I was asked by my boss at Jellinek to work together with Holland Casino and set up a Responsible Gambling project with a focus on how to deal with people with gambling problems. At the same time, we developed training programmes for the slot machine arcade industry. We still deliver training programmes for both but you can understand they have developed and go much further than in the early days.
In the beginning it was not easy. We were accused by colleagues in the treatment sector of working with the ‘enemy’ and by a number of people working in the industry the project was considered to be paying mere lip service. However, we were convinced of the necessity of shared responsibility as we still are.
You are chairman of the Board of the Global Gambling Guidance Group (G4) – what does G4 set out to achieve?
G4 aims to minimise the impact of problem gambling by promoting a worldwide accreditation programme for operators and suppliers. International accreditation enhances the perception of the entire gambling and betting industry and promotes the concept of safer gambling and betting. The basis of G4 accreditation are the annually updated Code of Practice and Audit checklists. Both are compliant with the highest standards required anywhere in the worldwide. Members of G4 are the some of the best-known international gambling operators and suppliers.
You’ve worked throughout the world, which jurisdiction do you see as representing the safer gambling ‘gold standard’ and why?
“I don’t think it is possible to say that one jurisdiction represents the ‘gold standard’, however more and more jurisdictions are taking measures that are dealing with problem gambling and safer gambling. Most of the measures are created by politicians who in general do not have a clue about what could be done and should be done, preferably based on scientific evidence. The UK is being considered as a front runner in this, but in fact it is only for a number of years that the UK has viewed the issue of problem gambling as a ‘top priority’. Other countries such as Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands have always been important players in the problem gambling/ safer gambling arena.
It is about policies and practices to prevent and reduce the harm of gambling and about informed choice to play well-designed games in a secure and supportive environment based on a stepped care model.
From your experience do regulators understand gambling and the gambling industry?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. In theory regulators do understand gambling and betting, especially from a technical point of view. In addition, all legal gambling and betting that’s being offered, is checked by certification bodies to see if they are fair and honest. But it would also be good to have a look at what is the most effective system relating to safer gambling measures. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we have an organisation such as GREF – the Gaming Regulators European Forum – there is no European-wide policy, let alone a world-wide policy. In fact, all individual countries are trying to find their own solutions and make their own decisions on how to regulate.
Obstacles in this area are the research programmes required to inform the policy makers and regulators. However, evidence-based research takes time, frequently more time than we can provide. I think we should also have a focus on best practices, what’s worked and as importantly what hasn’t. It is a real challenge to implement problem gambling and safer gambling measures based on research and its practical application.
What are the stand-out features of MERKUR UK’s 360 Program and why are you happy to be involved?
Customer experience is the essential part of the 360 Program: for example, establishing what’s important for customers visiting the venue, the quality of the experience, what value customers relate to the visit, what can be learned regarding customers managing their budget, but above above all what do we need to do better. I am happy to be involved in this project as the real focus is on the customer, the behaviour and the well-being of the individual. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but a personal and tailor-made one.
What do you think the 360 Program has achieved in its first year?
I think 360 is still in its early stages and we shouldn’t forget that for large periods of the last 15-months the venues have been closed due to the COVID-19 policy implemented by the UK Government. However, the appointment of Lola Wood as Customer Experience Manager (CEM) is very important and the CEM role will be central to its further development. I am curious and looking forward to learning more about the details and results of the project and I am happy to contribute to this.
Do you think the 360 Program could be usefully rolled-out to other jurisdictions?
That’s a good question, but I have to say it is still too early to provide a definitive answer. That means that we should carefully follow the results of the project and we should also take into account cultural differences between the different countries in which MERKUR operates if we are considering whether the 360 Program could be transferred to other jurisdictions. However, I have to say that the early signs coming out of the UK are positive.
Can you explain why the safer gambling philosophy makes good business sense?
Similar to many other businesses the gambling and betting industry can only survive when the focus is on sustainability by which I mean no cowboy operators whatever sector they are from. The message is simple and straightforward. Don’t go for short-term earnings or profit, but instead, focus on earning long-term profit. Part of that objective involves keeping your customers healthy – because it’s only healthy customers that will stay.