A clear signal to help the problem gambler

Britain imposes a record fine on a gambling site that failed to screen customers who had gambled despite signaling they wanted to be self-excluded. Both the gambling industry and its regulators worldwide must be more diligent. 

AP Photo
Gamblers play slot machines at the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City, N.J.

A British regulatory sent a strong message to the gaming industry on Aug. 31 about its duty to care for its customers. The UK Gambling Commission imposed a record penalty of $10 million against the online firm 888 for failing to screen for problem gamblers. More than 7,000 customers who had chosen to exclude themselves from the site were still able to access the operator’s platform. One customer took $71,000 from his employer to play.

The commission’s tough action came just days after it announced that the number of British people over age 16 deemed to be problem gamblers had grown by a third in three years. It also found that the number of people who had violated their own voluntary self-exclusion from gambling sites had more than quadrupled between 2009 and 2016.

The commission’s stiff fine should help remind the global gambling industry that it must accept greater social responsibility to spot and deter adults with a risk of gambling addiction – or face potential lawsuits. The industry has done much in the past two decades to deal with the issue. But the financial incentives remain high to entice the most vulnerable to gamble because they provide a large portion of the industry’s revenues.

Regulators, too, may be under pressure from lawmakers to ensure high tax revenue from gaming. They cannot become lax in ensuring the industry keeps high safeguards of screening customers. Gamblers must also be offered counseling if they have problems.

The rapid pace of technological change in the industry has made gambling more accessible, thus demanding greater vigilance to screen and track gamblers. Gaming institutions have tried to set limits on the credit, deposits, and losses of customers prone to gambling addiction. But regulators should make sure that such efforts are not eroded over time.

Many governments hold liquor bars accountable for the driving accidents of drunken customers. Yet up to now, regulators and courts have generally not imposed a similar liability on casinos or online gambling sites for the social or financial damages caused by problem gamblers. But it is a simple matter of common compassion for the industry to do more. Its negligence can result in a pretty stiff fine, as Britain has now done.

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