The gambling industry’s standards body has been committed to creating a safer gambling environment for all players, both land-based and online, since its foundation in 2019. They have been key in the implementation of many of the safer gambling tools we now all know and use, such as deposit limits and time checks.
We recently published part one of our interview with Wes Himes, Executive Director of Standards and Innovation at the (Betting and Gaming Council) BGC, in which we discussed the BGC’s mission statements and the successes they have experienced since their foundation.
Read on to find part 2 of the interview below, where we discuss the national lockdowns, the effects they have had on the gambling landscape, and what casinos plan on doing moving forward to mitigate the risks at their land-based premises.
OB: The age limit for the lottery is changing to 18+. Why has it taken so long to be regulated like the rest of gambling and how does the BGC respond to this change?
Wes Himes: First of all, we welcome the change. Our chief executive Michael Dugher has often said that we welcome that change. Traditionally the lottery has been a point of sale, ticket sale but has, in recent years, developed with scratchcards and the lottery moving online. The lottery is part of the gambling landscape and it is therefore prudent to align their age limits with the rest of the sector. We supported that change, but as to why it took so long, that’s probably someone else to answer.
OB: When casinos closed during the first lockdown and across the country when the tier system was implemented, the BGC did call for them to be allowed to remain open. What did the BGC think they had done for them to be safe to remain open?
Wes Himes: When we look at the various risk levels around land-based premises, that’s both casinos and LBOs, the view was taken that there were a bunch of mitigating measures that we could take and operators invested very large funds in making sure that those premises were mitigating the risk of Covid-19, whether that was from PPE for staff or barriers, hand sanitiser etc, there were a bunch of other measures that we invited Public Health England to look at and we believe that for the unique use of those premises, which is what happens with casinos and LBOs, we felt that they were sufficient to be able to, on a limited basis of customers, provide that service.
Obviously we are very happy to support the national effort and we understand that based on the government’s decisions that if at some point they feel that it is absolutely necessary to shut down land-based premises we understand that, but we continue to make sure that our premises are mitigating the risk and we will see what happens after this next lockdown.
OB: How can land-based casinos ensure that they are offering a safe gambling environment, given the stresses of coronavirus and the lockdowns? When casinos reopen, how can they make sure that players aren’t over gambling based on the stresses they’ve experienced?
Wes Himes: Casinos have tremendous systems for player protection within the premises. It all starts at the front door where they have obviously age-verification which they are often tested on through mystery entry schemes that we have in place that have been working for years. As you get into the casino there’s a whole set of regulations and rules around expenditure, some driven by preventing money laundering, some by social gambling. All of the staff are trained to be able to identify particularly problematic play.
And of course, when it comes to electronic table games or machines, there are a number of technological elements which allow you to flag to the floor manager problematic play, be that an extended period of time on the machine or a particularly large spend. These all create intervention points for the staff. This happens Covid or not, and these are the types of measures that we continue to raise standards on, so there’s further work to do in these areas but these do help provide a very safe environment of play to the customers.
OB: How will casinos go about being allowed to be open when other venues may be closed, once this lockdown comes to an end?
Wes Himes: I think always we have to make the case as to why our venues are safe and secure. As I mentioned earlier, casinos invested a tremendous amount of time and resources into making sure they were bringing and creating a covid resistant environment for their customers. This involved everything from limiting the number of customers to preparing staff, to making the entire premise clean and safe and that is exactly what they will commit to doing if and when they can reopen.
OB: Late last year Michael Dugher asked for land-based casinos to be allowed to remain open past 10pm if they stopped alcohol sales. How do alcohol sales impact casinos opening times?
Wes Himes: The view with that was to ensure that 1. The patronisation of casinos wasn’t driven by alcohol sales, so that customers could continue to enjoy the product, enjoy the games, not just for the sake of alcohol. It also depended on whether other venues were closed, such as pubs. Casinos certainly didn’t want to become a pub by default late in the evening just because they were the only ones left with an alcohol licence.
So I think it was a mix of both that made it the prudent thing to do, and just one of the many measures that they have taken to ensure the opening of the venues. We are committed to continuing to explore with the government, as and when the time comes, what we can do to ensure that those premises can open. There may be other things that we will be required to do depending on the decisions and discussions the government has with the industry.
There is obviously a lot of work to be done towards mitigating risks and ensuring that casinos can open safely, with limited risk to customers and staff alike. We are pleased to see that the BGC is taking into account advice from Public Health England, and is open to discussion with the government to continue to provide a safe gambling experience. For further information on responsible gambling visit our Safer Gambling hub page to read our entire collection of Responsible Gambling guides.
A big thanks to Wes Himes for taking the time to speak to us. He has given us a really good insight into the actions the BGC is taking to help protect players and staff, and how they can provide a safer gambling landscape in light of the coronavirus.
Hannah has written news articles and lifestyle blogs for three years. Venturing into the gambling industry Hannah is writing gambling content for Online Bingo and has written content for Lodgis Paris.
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