Warren Russell, W2: Addressing the affordability balancing act

Affordability has been one of the key talking points in gambling circles over the past year, eliciting positive responses from some stakeholders, but reservations from others. 

Although the Gambling Act review has once again been delayed, many reform advocates remain hopeful that enhanced affordability checks protecting the most vulnerable of players will be included in the regulatory overhaul.

On the other side of the divide, key figures in the betting industry – as well as politicians and representatives from associated sports such as horse racing  – have expressed concerns that more stringent affordability checks could unfairly impact bettors who are not at risk, drive revenue to unregulated black market operators and deal a heavy financial blow to the sector.

Addressing the affordability debate in the context of regulatory compliance specialist W2’s newly launched affordability tool, the company’s Founder and CEO, Warren Russell, acknowledged the need to balance operators’ legitimate business activities with the spending habits of both at-risk and not-at-risk players. 

“It’s going to be very interesting to see where those thresholds are set and how the operators react, because gambling is a business and for the average player it’s a leisure time activity,” he remarked.

“For some people, don’t get me wrong, it goes beyond that. But for the vast majority, it’s a leisure time activity and for the operators it’s certainly legitimate business.”

“We’ve just got to be careful that we don’t create a rule and a regime that means that everybody who sits in those safe places are treated and have to behave the same as the people who do have a problem. 

“Those problems absolutely need to be solved, and what we very much hope is that the solution that we’re bringing to market goes some way into helping that. We’re not pretending this is a silver bullet, it’s part of a responsible gambling process.”

Providing a breakdown of how W2’s affordability solution works, Russell echoed comments made by responsible gambling organisations in recent weeks, noting that the cost of living crisis has heightened the need for effective affordability solutions. 

However, also addressing the aforementioned need to balance responsibilities, he explained how W2’s offering can be tailored to fit the needs of different customers and also ‘fill the gaps’ in operators’ affordability arsenals, which vary from company to company. 

“What we try to do across all of our solutions is make them as granular as possible. We’ve got hundreds of different elements available through our platform, but obviously not everybody takes everything.

“For example, you might walk into Tescos to do shopping tomorrow, but you might just pick up a pint of milk, or you might do a month’s worth of shopping, so we’ve built our platform to operate in that way. 

“That’s exactly the same approach that we’ve taken to affordability. The solution is split down into several individual components, which an operator can take as a single bundle. These can all be implemented perhaps at registration or at whatever point they want to, or it can be broken down into its individual elements, 

“These are all implemented perhaps at registration, or whatever point they want to, or they can break it down into its individual elements and do some registration or use some various markers of harm triggers.”

The triggers in question are wide ranging, including social, demographic and geographical factors, as well as individually-based considerations – such as whether a customer has applied for payday loan recently, what employment details or income sources are being declared across certain apps. 

Turning his attention to the topic of the black market, W2’s CEO outlined his view that there certainly is a risk of such a sector expanding – adding that whenever checks that did not exist previously are implemented the possibility is heightened  – but that this risk is not ‘as high as the naysayers are making out’.

“I think it comes down to how the Gambling Act review sets those thresholds and how those thresholds are implemented,” he continued. “If we just have a single line that applies to everybody and the operators are expected to come in with a huge stick, the chances of people being driven to the black markets is much higher. 

“If it’s handled sensibly, proportionately and accurately and using services like ours to target interactions with customers to make sure that the way that you handle problems scenarios is done sensibly, empathetically and pragmatically, that’s the best way to ensure that the players don’t get driven into other markets.”

Throughout the rest of the conversation, Russell reflected on the ever-more-delayed Gambling Act review White Paper, W2’s affordability operations and the company’s plans moving forward, hinting at further responsible gambling rollouts and greater use of blockchain. 

Watch the full interview HERE

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