There’s been a lot of talk about Ontario’s iGaming market. With the launch, the operators, the revenue, and sponsorship opportunities, it’s safe to say that it is one of the most popular iGaming markets in the world right now. A necessary component in any new iGaming market is responsible gambling. In this episode, we will discuss how organisations such as the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) play a significant role in working with the industry to develop and implement evidence informed responsible gambling standards and practices, as well as, educating the public about how to reduce gambling harms and gamble responsibly.
The iGaming Show, presented by Paramount Commerce, is a podcast that will analyze gaming industry trends with experts from various gaming organizations.
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Varad Mehta: Hello everyone. And welcome to the fifth episode of The iGaming Show presented by Paramount Commerce. I’m your host Varad Mehta. And in this podcast we analyze gaming industry trends with experts from various organizations. In today’s episode, we will discuss the importance of responsible gambling measures and practices in a newly regulated iGaming market such as Ontario’s with Shelley White, the Chief Executive Officerat the Responsible Gambling Council. So without further ado, let’s get the show rolling. Shelley, I always begin my interviews with really fun type of questions, so I hope you don’t mind answering three just non-topic related questions. They’re more about you than the topic we’re going to speak about. So the first one is your birthday happens to be on Boxing Day, if I’m not mistaken. So are there double celebrations during Christmas time?
Shelley White: Hi Varad.It’s a pleasure to be here. Yes. You know what? The great thing about having a birthday on Boxing Day is that everybody is one altogether. So it’s always been a celebration with family and friends, and it’s a very festive time of year. So the festivities just continue.
VM: Okay, perfect. Number two is I read somewhere that you said this, that you are the first and last person on the dance floor. So what is your go-to dance move?
SW: The cha cha. The cha cha. The salsa. I actually had the opportunity before COVID to participate in a charitable event that was for the community foundation in Mississauga it was Dancing with the Stars. And I did the cha cha to Lady Marmalade.
VM: That is awesome. I love that. And lastly, I noticed that you’re a big sports fan. You follow the Olympics closely. Hockey is important to you, basketball especially, and that means Toronto Raptors. So I wanted to ask, how did you celebrate the Raptors NBA Championship win back in 2019?
SW: Oh my gosh. Our whole office was cheering for the Raptors. And there was staff, so as a result, the staff asked me during the day of the parade if they could take some time off to participate in the parade. And it was definitely a thumbs up. Go. I happened to be out of town on business, so I had to celebrate remotely. But it was an incredibly exciting time. I know that I put some posts on social media to congratulate the team and then just listened to everybody’s stories about what it was like to be at that parade and to celebrate this momentous win for a Canadian team that people did not expect to win an NBA championship. But those players and that leadership team, they just did an extraordinary job. I’m so proud of them.
VM: Definitely. It was like the whole country was together during that time. It was so beautiful. Now I’d like to move on to the more important stuff, what we’re here to speak about, which is Responsible Gambling. Shelley, can you tell us how you got involved with the Responsible Gambling Council?
SW: Yeah, sure. So, in 2017, the board of directors recruited me to succeed Dr. Jon Kelly, who was retiring from the Responsible Gambling Council. So I’m the third CEO of an organization that’s been in place for 39 years, and it’s been an extraordinary experience.
VM: And what attracted you to this specific industry? Responsible Gambling has been part of the gambling or gaming industry for such a long time, but it’s more prevalent now as well. So what attracted you to that?
SW: Yeah, primarily what attracted me to this organization was that it is a centre of excellence, it is a highly regarded organization globally, it is a social enterprise. And I was very interested in working with a social enterprise that was having Canadian impact, but also global impact. And if I looked at the kind of work that I’ve been doing prior to joining RGC, it was about supporting children and youth to achieve their potential. It was about preventing mental health and addictions. And also working collaboratively with the public, private, nonprofit sectors to address key issues and create solutions and create positive social change. I have to say, I really valued and admired RGC’s humanitarian focus, but also that it was also very entrepreneurial, and that it was committed to creating change in the responsible gambling area that was aligned with the kinds of changes, rapid changes that were occurring in the gambling industry. And as an innovative, progressive organization, that really appealed to me and the fact that it was having an impact. I worked for a number of organizations that relied upon evidence. So this had a very strong research platform and continues to. In order for us to have a real impact on responsible gambling, we need to ensure that it’s evidence informed, that it’s not a knee jerk reaction, that it’s evidence informed to ensure that we’re creating the kind of outcomes that are aligned with our goals and objectives. So for all those reasons, there were a number of reasons, it wasn’t just one reason, but there were a number of characteristics, aspects of the Responsible Gambling Council that I really valued and that I know that are key to a successful organization, including a strong board and a very strong employee team.
VM: I think you spoke about research, and I was going through the RGC website and there was so much informative research there that people can greatly benefit from. One of the ones that I really want to talk about is the RGC team started preparing research on Ontario’s iGaming behaviour and implemented safer gambling recommendations and campaigns even before the launch of Ontario’s iGaming market. Could you tell us about the learnings from that research? Because it’s quite detailed and it’s really well put out.
SW: Yeah, so with COVID, we knew that with the lockdowns that people were spending more time online because their other activities were so limited. And so we wanted to understand what was the impact of people being online. And given the conversations, we also knew because we’d been working with the provincial government since August 2019. We knew that they were looking into the feasibility of expanding iGaming in Ontario. So we wanted to understand leading up to that what Ontario’s behaviour was. And that was a three way longitudinal study that was funded by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. And we learned that more Ontarians were playing online, they were playing on the OLG site, but they were also playing on other grey market sites as well. We learned that primarily it was young adults where there was a dramatic increase. And there was also an increase in risk for East Asian and South Asian players. And so knowing that we use that information to communicated that information in our advocacy efforts with the government to help them, inform them about what we could anticipate and how we needed to ensure that there were good, robust regulatory standards in place that were going to address what we had learned. We were also working with operators, and we had strongly recommended to the government that RG Check Accreditation be one of the requirements for all operators coming into the new Ontario market, which they did, and we’re really pleased about that. Given what we learned, this was one study, but we knew there was more that we needed to learn. So we emphasized,given the kinds of changes that were occurring in iGaming, in technology, in demographics, legislation, etc. And there needed to be a commitment and investment in ongoing research to ensure that we could continue to develop evidence-informed standards. So this study was quite informative and has also identified other areas of research that needs to be done as well.
VM: Can you talk about any other work that the RGC team has been or was working on prior to Ontario’s iGaming market launch? Besides the research done.
SW: Yeah, sure. So I think one key area is our ethno-cultural research. So just drilling down even further and understanding who is gambling, what the impacts are, what might influence someone, what are the cultural connections. So, we know that gambling is very embedded in a lot of the cultural celebrations in the East Asian and South Asian communities. We were able to use that information, we work closely with East Asian and South Asian organizations to provide us with further information so that we could actually incorporate that knowledge in the development and implementation of our public information program. So develop social media campaigns around the Lunar New Year and around Diwali, et cetera, when we knew there would be more gambling, and just to provide information to the East Asian and South Asian community about responsible gambling tools that are available that they can put in place to prevent gambling harm. So applied research, it’s not just research that’s going to sit on a shelf and gather dust, it’s taking that information and then applying it to actually help individuals make informed decisions about their gambling, to keep it safer.
VM: Definitely I think taking into account the diverse population of Ontario, research like this could actually be really beneficial to whoever’s, for regulators, for operators, even affiliates related to the gaming industry. I have to ask that Ontario is a new market, and the research that you’re talking about, it seems so Ontario focused. But were there any other markets you looked around for inspiration, maybe internationally, maybe in the States, or maybe Europe?
SW: Yeah, so that’s the advantage of RGC being both a domestic and a global organization. We do work on 6 different continents in 12 different countries, and so we have learned a lot about best practices, but also learned from changes that other jurisdictions need to make as well. So we, domestically, do a lot of comparisons and have lots of conversations with British Columbia, for example. We implement the PlaySmart program on behalf of OLG. They’ve developed GameSense, which is a similar program that’s offered to players both in casinos, land-based facilities as well as online. And then we also looked at what’s happening in countries, in Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Norway. Germany is in an emerging market. We also looked at what was happening in Singapore. We do work in Singapore with RG Check as well. And then had a lot of conversations with the UK. The UK is a more mature market. It’s been undergoing some radical changes. They’ve got a new Responsible Gambling strategy that they’ve been implementing for the last four years and they’ve got a white paper that they’re expecting and there’ll be further changes. But we’ve learned from them. We also have some really good research that comes out of Australia and have been doing a lot of work with the Victoria Responsible Gambling Council and with some operators in Australia. We have a board member who’s Australian and we have ongoing conversations with trade organization in Australia just to learn from each other and also help other jurisdictions advance the responsible gambling strategies as well. So you can learn from leading practices, but you can also learn from what’s not going well as well. And to help us identify where further research needs to be done and where there’s opportunities to strengthen and enhance standards.
VM: Definitely. So speaking about the inspiration, the research, understanding what the core goals are is equally important. So what are the main goals that RGC wants to achieve with Responsible Gambling measures and how are the results to date?
SW: Yeah, so we really take a holistic approach Varad. So our goals are to ensure that there’s strong regulatory standards in place, so working with regulators to ensure that there’s evidence-informed regulations in place that provide a comprehensive approach to responsible gambling. And that operators are being held accountable for compliance with those standards. That’s also extremely important. Secondly, with operators,working with operators, one of our other goals is to work with operators to ensure that they have robust responsible gambling strategies in place that start right at the top and are incorporated throughout the organization to ensure that there is a safer gambling strategy and environment in place. And thirdly is working with the consumers and ensuring that we’re providing consumers with public information so that they understand how gambling works, how gaming works, what the risks are and what Responsible Gambling tools are in place to support them. Gambling is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be a form of entertainment. We want people to keep it fun. We don’t want people to experience financial or psychological or harm to their family as a result of gambling. So our goal is to create a safer gambling environment for individuals as well. And the whole route of Responsible Gambling that was written about in the Reno model a number of years ago and has been recently updated is Responsible Gambling is really about each of the stakeholders playing their respective roles in creating a safer gambling experience. The role of governments, the role of regulator, role of operators, game designers, affiliates, and the players themselves. The burden should not just be on the player, you need all the stakeholders in place.
VM: Definitely. Something you touched upon earlier in the conversation was RG Check’s, the iGaming Accreditation tool. It is such an important tool, I think I’ve read about it on the website as well. iGaming Ontario and AGCO can incorporate this into their consumer protection strategy as well, and goes well for operators as well. So, can you tell us more about this andthe standards that operators must meet?
SW: Yeah, so we have RG Check for both iGaming and for venues as well. Specifically for iGaming, there’s nine standards and 48 criteria. It is a very objective, measured approach. So we actually go in and evaluate an operator based on, and the nine standards include RG policy, strategy, and culture. Is this a priority right at the top, and do they have all the right policy, standards and culture in place? Second one, employee training. Absolutely imperative and throughout the organization. Thirdly, do they have a good self exclusion program in place, and is it easily accessible for their customers? Do they have the ability to assist players who may be experiencing harm, and are they effectively carrying that out? Number five would be informed decision making and ensuring that players have the information they need and that they’re providing the players information so that players can make informed decisions about their play. Six will be marketing and communications. And do their marketing communications prevent harms and do not exaggerate the probability of winning, et cetera? So there’s a number of marketing and communications criteria. Accounts and payments would be another one. And so what’s in place for an individual to set up an account and payments. And is it safe, is it fair for the player? Number eight would besite and product design. So are RG tools prominent and are they easily accessible? Are the games fair and do they fulfill all the technical standards that are required by the regulator? And number nine would be stakeholder engagement Are they working with all of the stakeholders that are essential in order to create a safer gambling experience? And we started working on these standards prior to iGaming being introduced in Ontario because we were working with other jurisdictions that were interested in this, the United States and in Singapore, but we also have enhanced these standards as well, given the new technological advancements, changes to payments and that kind of thing.
VM: Amazing. And lastly, I’d like to ask you, is there something in particular that the RGC team is working on that is more towards the future or maybe a few months down the line? What is the project or what is the dream project for the RGC right now? Keeping in mind Ontario for sure.
SW: This is a very committed team, and we’re working on a few priorities right now. First of all, research, and we’re working on a number of research studies, but most recently we just announced that Flutter International has provided us with funding to do a two year, three part study on advertising and marketing standards. There’s a lot of questions out there about, is it okay for players to wear operators logos on their jerseys? Bonuses and promotions. I mean there’s so many different aspects of advertising and marketing. We want to make sure that whatever advertising and marketing standards are in place, that they are actually designed for harm prevention and not going to actually create an alternative in terms of driving people to the black market because it’s just not the correct standards in place. So advertising and marketing, in two years from now we’ll have some really good information that can inform the development of these standards that will benefit the entire industry. Secondly, we’re going to be launching very shortly a new public information campaign around Responsible Gambling that we’re really excited about. It’s really important to have a balance in the marketplace of responsible gambling ads and information in comparison with all the operators ads. So we’ve got an exciting new ad that is coming out that we’ve been able to develop in collaboration with support from thinkTV and so more to come about that and that will be later this month. RG Check. I mentioned that one of the requirements is that all the new operators or all the operators that are in the iGaming market in Ontario must go through RG Check and new operators within the first two years. So we’re very busy conducting RG Check accreditations with the new operators as well as with previous operators as well because all the land-based operators have to go through this as well. So very busy with RG Check both within Canada but also globally. And last, but certainly not least is RGCis committed to being a thought leader in the area of responsible gambling and we hold an annual conference called Discovery that is focused on bringing forward and having discussions and debates and inspiring action around key issues in the responsible gambling space. This is an international conference, we’ll have delegates from all over the world and that’s taking place at the beginning of November. And we’ll be looking at things like impact of new technology, looking at advertising and marketing standards, what is happening with respect to responsible gambling standards and regulations around the world,and what we can learn from each other. We’ll be talking about what’s happening in Ontario and how that’s influencing the rest of Canada and other parts of the world as well, and a myriad of other very timely, important responsible gambling issues.
VM: Shelley, I want to thank you and the RGC team because providing evidence based research and having so many tools available for operators, regulators and even consumers, I think it just makes gambling more of an entertainment aspect and will help in reduction of gambling harm. So I really want to thank you for giving me your time talking about something so important. And I hope whoever listens to this podcast can take away a lot of information that you’ve provided to us. And it was such an honour to speak with you. I’m a fan. So thank you again to you and the RGC team. Shelley, thank you so much.
SW: Varad, thank you very much for the opportunity. It was a real pleasure.
VM: Effective Responsible Gambling measures and practices not only help in reduction of gambling harms, but they also play a vital role in educating the public as well. This way, consumers can gamble responsibly. I want to thank Shelley White, the Chief Executive Officer at the Responsible Gambling Council, for joining us today and providing her expertise. If you have any questions for us or Shelley, comment them down below. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please don’t forget to, like, share and subscribe to our YouTube channel. And thank you so much for tuning into The iGaming Show. I’m your host, Varad Mehta. And until next time, keep gaming.