Since he joined the gambling sector and industry in 2014 when he took up a position with the Malta Gaming Authority, Kevin O’Neill has been interested in responsible gambling. His current position as General Manager for the Responsible Gaming Foundation resonates with his strong conviction that the gaming industry should be fair and safe.
He is also keen on continuing to steer the industry towards a future in which it is perceived as a valid recreational activity and not a source of harm to participants. O’Neill is also part of the Casino Guru Awards panel of judges and he will cast his vote in the "Responsible Gambling Tools" category during the event. We caught up with him to find out what he thinks about the future of the gambling industry, its sustainability, and not least – responsible gambling.
Q: Kevin, you have been part of the gambling industry for many years now. Can you tell us what is it that the Responsible Gaming Foundation tries to achieve and how you come into this?
The RGF exists to promulgate the message that gambling can be harmful if approached with the wrong mindset. We acknowledge that a thin line separates fun from recklessness. It is for this very reason that the Foundation seeks every opportunity to educate individuals from a very early age to be responsible with their time and money, two very important factors when it comes to gambling. Raising awareness ensures that players know what their chances of winning are and informs them of the risks involved in the hope that they can approach gambling purely as a pastime and nothing more. Research is another key element that helps us make sense of the trends and proclivities of gamblers and allows us to adjust our approach to be the most effective it can be considering the available resources.
Q: You suggest that industry sustainability goes through responsible gambling. We agree, but do you think that every big operator now understands this on the visceral level that the champions of RG Tools do?
It’s no big secret that the industry has been dragged through the mud over the years and perhaps deservedly so thanks to a small number of rogue operators. There was a time when most operators were only concerned, if at all, with licensing conditions and so, RG was simply another box to tick. It did not come from the heart. In time, the notion that ‘doing things right’ started becoming ‘a thing’. Operators made the connection between responsibility and sustainability and quickly realized that raising their standards in this area, creating a safe, fair and transparent gambling space for their customers actually was a more long-term lucrative proposition than previously thought. My feeling is that these days, a lot more emotion is being woven into the operation and not due to fear of reprimand, sanction or fines but a genuine interest in the player’s wellbeing and this augurs well for the industry. The Foundation is committed to being a catalyst in all this.
Q: Do you think operators and stakeholders have had a delayed response to introducing more responsible gambling tools and practices? We can hear about big fines happening in regulated markets such as the UK even to this day, even though standards are constantly improving. Why do you think this is happening if we are moving forward as an industry? Why are there still failings?
I don’t believe that there’s a quick and simple answer to this question. It could be down to a number of factors. I certainly would not like to think that certain failings are intentional in nature but neither do I expect operators to be sloppy in their compliance either. One factor could be lack of training given to frontliners. I think this is a critical factor since these are what I like to term as the ‘gatekeepers’ of the business. I strongly believe that support staff should be adequately trained to deal with adverse situations and equipped with the necessary tools that will allow them to easily detect players who appear to be on a risky trajectory. Also, they should be up to date on the internal policies because what is the use in having robust policies and not implementing them? I am not even going to delve into the AML risks here but one gets the picture. As for the question if stakeholders had a delayed response to introducing more RG tools and practices, it may be due to the fact that perhaps regulators were hopeful that operators would be more open to self-regulation at the time. Notwithstanding, awareness has played a big part in setting the stage for a more ethical approach in recent years.
Q: We are excited that you will be part of the Casino Guru Awards panel of judges. Can you tell us what you are looking for and expect from the companies that participate?
Those who know me well will tell you that I’m a hopeless idealist and perhaps this is the reason why I strongly believe that any ethically driven endeavor is bound to succeed. It may indeed take longer to reach financial goals but long-term success is more likely. I believe that an ethical culture within a company ensuring that principled standards permeate every area of its operation are an immense driver of success in any business context. So yes, I expect well-crafted policies, more frequent safety checks and more interaction and check-ins with players, non-aggressive advertising and an authentic interest in the player’s wellbeing to mention a few, to be at the heart of the operation.
Q: If you could change one thing about responsible gambling standards in most regulated markets, for example, what would it be?
In my humble opinion, there exists a vacuum of sorts, a substantial lack of consistency among the regulated markets and for no apparent reason or at least, for reasons known to the jurisdiction’s regulator however I believe that these can all agree on a set of core immutable principles as a standard. A case in point would be the implementation of the inter-jurisdictional Global Self-Exclusion tool. I am fully aware of the many challenges in getting such a scheme off the ground but if all stakeholders set aside personal agendas and present a common front in the interest of the common good, it will undoubtedly pave the way for a more socially responsible and sustainable sector.