by Claudio Caruana
Problem Gambling became a buzzword over the last decade, without exception in the small island of Malta which boasts the longest list of licenced remote gaming operators worldwide.
Old-fashioned conservatives, social workers, doctors and psychologists have called upon governments to ban gambling activities within their jurisdictions due to the harmful effect on social and family relations, work performance, mental and physical health and financial situation. Real social costs to gambling have been identified and exaggerated over time. Perhaps adopting the same line of reasoning governments should also ban the sale of alcohol. After all there is ample evidence that alcohol, when abused, leads to aggressive behaviour, employment troubles, strained relations and precarious health conditions. Perhaps in a perfect world there should be no such thing as gambling or alcohol.
The reality is that, like it or not, gambling is here to stay and a more nuanced response is required. Although government revenue through taxes and licence fees is indeed attractive, governments must acknowledge that long term social problems might offset the financial gains unless a carefully thought out Responsible Gaming Policy is imposed on operators which ensures that the offering by gaming operators uphold the highest standards to ensure a fair and safe gaming experience that protects players from the adverse consequences of gaming and gambling. Lotteries and Gaming Authority in Malta acknowledged the potential harm of gambling and sought to protect public interest through prudent player protection mechanisms including age verification, deposit limits, self-exclusion facilities, wagering limits and session time-outs. The failure to implement any of these requirements leads to an unsuccessful licence application or to the imposition of other sanctions.
In addition, recently it has also been announced that a Responsible Gaming Fund will soon be introduced the scope of which will be to deal with players who have developed a gambling addiction and to fund advertising campaigns on responsible gaming in order to raise awareness of problem gambling. This pro-active approach adopted by the Lotteries and Gaming Authority should be commended and replicated in other jurisdictions. It is proof of the commitment of the Maltese government to the sustainable growth of the gaming industry without making allowances for its moral responsibility to safeguard society’s well-being.
In recognition of the laudable efforts of the Lotteries and Gaming Authority gaming operators should be invigorated to contribute to the Responsible Gaming Fund to demonstrate to critics the benevolence and active role the gaming industry is taking so as to mitigate social problems associated with gambling. In addition to that gaming operators should also be encouraged to implement social gaming policies which go beyond the requirements of the Remote Gaming Regulations. For instance, through loyalty data stored in their databases, gaming operators can identify problem gamblers and adopt protective interventions and assistance to these players. Through such measures the industry will attain the legitimacy it longs for and powerfully displays that revenues are secondary to social and corporate responsibility.