Research from the UK Gambling Commission suggests that in Britain alone there are approximately 340,000 adults classed as problem gamblers, plus a further 1.75 million at risk. That’s 0.7% and 3.5% of the adult population respectively.

This high number, along with the revelation of the devastating effects problem gambling can have on people at an individual level, means the topic has become an increasingly urgent talking point in the media and among politicians, both of whom are looking squarely at the gambling operators to take mitigating action.

In previous blogs, we have looked at the importance of having an experienced Money Laundering Reporter to manage the risks of a gaming business through a thorough knowledge of the business operations and the creation of risk-based controls. While that is still the case, it has become increasingly clear that one of the most important controls that should be in place is how the company protects problem gamblers.

Responsible gaming should be central to an operator’s business strategy and not only because problem gambling is in the news. Ultimately, protecting players from self-harm is a way of building trust and long-term loyalty. And if operators don’t manage this problem themselves, it’s a short step to increasing regulation or possibly even prohibition to bring them into line.

So what tools can operators put in place to reduce the possibility of gambling harms? A way for players to self-exclude themselves, either temporarily or permanently, is a crucial element, along with the ability to create self-imposed betting limits on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Giving players such controls can help them manage the amount of money being deposited or limit the amount of time they play.

By their very nature, gaming operators have access to new technology and lots of data, and it’s imperative to harness this for the good of the player. Some companies, for example, give their players automated hourly reality checks which show total bets and losses for that period with the option to cancel or continue to play. There’s also the question of game design and how software programmers create a fun, entertaining product that customers wish to play but which does not lead to problematic or obsessive behaviour.

Another important component is the registration process. Operators must do everything possible to ensure that underage customers are not allowed to gamble and robust verification controls are in place. This includes staff training. Just as staff are trained in KYC and AML procedures – and how to spot anomalies – staff should trained and supported in recognising problem gambling, with clear steps outlined for interventions and signposting of help.

There is also the question of attracting customers in the first place. Gaming companies must consider the way they position their businesses and ensure that their marketing is ethical and responsible. It has been interesting to hear recently of gaming companies voluntarily curtailing certain advertising – highly repetitive in-match play and shirt sponsorship for example – in response to a less drastic pre-watershed advertising ban brought in by the UKGC.

It is in the gift of operators to ensure that they provide a safe environment for players to play. Spending the time and resource to develop safer gaming environments and uphold responsible gaming practices will be a reward not only to those individuals at risk, but to the industry generally too.