Recently I was listening to Sandy Toksvig on the radio. She is of course incredibly witty and engaging and is clearly one of those people who, if you sat next to her at a dinner party would quickly make you feel like an intellectual pygmy (although many other people also have that effect on me…).

She was discussing Social Media (which we all do constantly, using social media…) and in particular she questioned why so many people feel the need to constantly check their phones in order to see whether they have just received an e-mail/sms/whatsapp/twitter etc etc in the last five minutes. Then she said that it was like constantly going to open your front door in order to see whether there was someone outside who wanted to see you, or pass you a message. Brilliant, and of course she is spot on, I reckon in the last hour I have opened my ‘front door’ four times to see whether there is anyone there! This comment was however an epiphany for me and the long and short of it is that I have now turned off all the notifications on my phone, except the ringer (as that still defines it as a ‘telephone’) and will now check for messages when I feel like it, which is not going to be every five minutes. So if you need me urgently, call me!

So we now have the latest consultation document from the UK Gambling Commission, ‘Player protections on Category B gaming machines’. We talk constantly about how the operator must try to define what ‘harm’ a gambler is causing him or herself which is in itself an important objective, but is such a nebulous concept that I would challenge any psychologist to sit and watch an average player sitting quietly on a gaming machine and to then try to determine that the player was being harmed. Yes, of course there are extreme markers of harm in gambling on gaming machines which those of us who have been in the business for many years can spot quickly. Button slapping, swearing at the machine, aggressive posture, emotional outbursts, increased visit frequency or dwell time, all these are signs that something isn’t right and that at the least the player should be encouraged to take some time out and by so doing give the local staff an opportunity to talk to them. Of course there is always that chance that their behaviour has been caused by something entirely outside of the venue and which has nothing to do with gambling but even then the opportunity to talk to a member of staff will probably have a cathartic effect and hopefully will calm things down.

So what needs to be done? I strongly believe that the introduction of messaging for players and limit setting of both time and expenditure is a good idea and should be relatively easy to implement. I believe that these are a good way of supporting players who might sometimes spend too much cash/time on a machine.

I do not, absolutely do not, think that individual player tracking is the right way to proceed. People do not like to think that anyone is ‘tracking’ what they are doing in their lives. Imagine if you applied this concept to alcohol consumption in pubs? Picture the scene, you pull up to the bar at the Red Lion after a gruelling management meeting and hand over your card to be ‘tracked’, the barman does a double take and says ‘Sir I do notice that this will be the fifth visit to a pub that you have made this week and your average dwell time has been 38 minutes. In addition (Sir) I note that you have consumed ten gin and tonics this week, do you feel that this a responsible level of alcohol consumption? Perhaps you would like to have a word with one of our specially trained intervention team?’  Come on, really? How long before pubs became a thing of the past, alcohol sales in supermarkets go through the roof and everyone is seeking out the local ‘speak easy’ for their Gin and Tonics.

They introduced Player Tracking in Austria about three years ago. What happened? Firstly the industry is a pale shadow of its former self and secondly players reacted in two different ways, regulars saw the tracking system as a challenge to be circumnavigated and they do that by cycling multiple cards in the gaming machines ( they obtain additional cards from casual infrequent players). Less frequent players simply voted with their feet, stopped playing in land based venues and played on-line. The figures at the time clearly show a 20% drop in land based and an equal and opposite increase for the on-line sites where there is by definition far less opportunity for staff/player interaction. This is a good example of the law of unintended consequences.

Finally, today  the Labour party announced their latest policy statement on Gambling in the UK. The main thrust of this seems to be a call for ‘parity’ between on-line and land based gaming in terms of stakes and prize limits. This is going to be interesting…