This is the first blog post in our new quarterly theme of Sustainability and Ethical Business. We are bringing you perspectives from our academic community. Conran Russell is an International Business with a Year in Industry student at Kent Business School. A keen blogger, Conran offers his opinion on the often controversial topic of online gambling.
The rise of m-commerce
The phenomenon of online gambling has taken the world by storm. From betting on a football match to placing wagers on the US Presidential Election, the surge of online gambling and mobile commerce (m-commerce) has created a lucrative industry, with big profits to be made for bookmakers like William Hill. Although profits are there to be made by bookmakers and a few savvy betters, the world of online gambling is quite a risky place for most, particularly those with limited disposable income – students.
I have always been fascinated with the profits made by online bookmakers. According to the Gambling Commission, revenue in the UK gambling industry reached £13.6 billion from April 2015 to March 2016. This surge in revenue has shaken up the industry and I am intrigued by a number of mergers and acquisitions. During 2015 there was a £2.3bn tie-up between Ladbrokes and Gala Coral, a £6bn merger of Betfair and Paddy Power in August, and GVC‘s £1.1bn acquisition of Bwin. As is the reason for most mergers and acquisitions, these companies are benefiting from synergies, particularly as the industry continues to become more competitive, as well as increasingly regulated.
Yet, as was the case with the growth of e-commerce, m-commerce is becoming the main source of growth for these companies. The fact that a consumer can place a bet on a range of events and activities from anywhere at any time has resulted in more people downloading betting applications. The development of betting ‘in play’ has only increased this trend.
Online gambling can be risky, especially for students. It is easy to get addicted to the thrill, huge amounts of money can be won, or indeed, lost instantly. In fact, the Gambling Commission stated that 0.5% of people aged 16+ in England were identified as problem gamblers in 2012. Last year, recent University of Surrey graduate Joshua Jones, committed suicide. He saw no way out after the debts and loans he had taken out to feed his online gambling habit, rose to an uncontrollable level. Unlike substance abuse, there are no immediate physical effects of gambling addiction, however, as in Joshua’s case, the repercussions can be just as grave.
How are firms combatting addiction?
At the time, GamCare, the UK’s national organisation for people with gambling problems stated: ‘For many people, gambling is not a harmful activity, but for some, we know it can become a serious problem. We believe it’s important for people to properly understand the risks associated with gambling, and for them to be able to access timely advice and support to prevent a problem developing.’
Scrawling through various gambling apps and websites, most sites offer various tools to help their customers have an oversight of their gambling habits, for example, budget calculators, helping punters work out their monthly spend, as well gambling diaries, allowing them to view their daily spend, their winnings and their losses. All seem to offer an account blocking service, which allows customers to suspend their account for a period of time to let them cool off.
But all these facilities are fairly hidden, buried at the bottom of the page, and I question how effective these deterrents are.
Can they do more?
At the inquest into Joshua’s death, his father highlighted a few practical measures that he thought could be put in place to by betting firms and gambling websites to avoid similar tragedies occurring:
- Introducing an option for permanent exclusion from platforms, instead of time-limited exclusions.
- Introducing a facility whereby self-exclusion from one platform could be applied automatically to all platforms.
There is no argument that features like this should be added, however, I cannot help feeling that there is only so many regulations can be implemented. Like any addiction, it is ultimately the responsibility of the addict to realise they have a problem and take action.
Although I am fascinated by the online gambling industry from a business perspective, I am increasingly cautious of the risks of online betting. It is so easy to pick up your phone and place a bet that people begin to lose track of their actions and as a result create an unhealthy addiction. I am not claiming that online gambling will falter any time soon, in fact, I can only see the industry growing, depending on how heavily regulated and taxed the industry gets. However, as a student, I would just like to make the point that users of these apps should perhaps give a bit of thought before placing bets. Perhaps keeping track of how much money you have made of loss would be a good idea, as I get the feeling that a lot of people like to neglect all of their losses and focus solely on the bets they do win.
Many thanks for Conran for sharing his thoughts.
If you need support with any type of addiction problem, please contact the Student Wellbeing Team.