This week’s blog is written by Gordon Moody Head of Growth, Rob Mabbett
Don’t sweat the small stuff?… You should.
Is there such a thing as an effective responsible gambling interaction? Can they actually work? Well, yes, sure they can, but it takes effort. You have to work at it, and you have to care
This week we have been talking to gambling operators about interactions. Some of our ex-residents as well as service managers w
ith lived experience of gambling harm kindly shared their experiences and spoke about times during their journey when the opportunity to interact with them had either been missed or not handled well.
The response we had was terrific, with lots of healthy conversation and questions being asked by those working in customer facing roles who genuinely wanted to do a good job and to do the right thing for their customers.
The fact is no matter how hard you work or how much training you do, you will never find a solution where an interaction with a customer works so well that they instantly stop gambling and (if they need to) seek help.
So why do it? This made me think of my experience many years ago when I was a student studying away from home for the first time.
Myself and friends would often visit the same pub. We had a favourite spot by a fruit machine and would regularly spend most of the evening chatting and sticking what we thought was the odd harmless quid in the machine.
Being skint was an occupational hazard of being a student at the time. It was 1999, the student grant system had gone and had been replaced by student loans, the banks were keen to get your custom and offers of interest free overdrafts and credit cards were plentiful.
Feast and famine
I had never had access to so much money in my life, but I had never had rent to pay, bills, food and other essentials to budget for either.
My existence of feast and famine seemed par for the course. Like many of my friends we would live well for the first couple of weeks of term then we would have to tighten our belts.
The occasional payment would be missed, to be honest the occasional meal would be missed too. Some of my friends put in an emergency call to the bank of Mum and Dad and await the rescue package or cheque. For me that was not an option (that’s a whole other story), but it didn’t bother me because I knew at the end of term I could go home and pick up a job or two over the holidays, repair the damage done in the previous term and when I went back to college lo and behold another student loan payment had found its way into my account.
I vowed at the start of each term to be more careful but the fear of missing out was too strong and so it was back to the pub.
In January 2001, I was in my second year and had just returned after the Christmas break. As per usual, at the start of term I was in the pub. I was often the first of my friends to arrive so I grabbed a drink and went over to our favoured spot and passed the time by putting change in the fruit machine.
It was then that the manager of the pub came over to me and asked if she could have a word. She asked me if we knew how much money we were putting in the fruit machine?
Naturally defensive, I shrugged and dismissed it as a few quid here and there to which she replied it was £200.
“When you guys are on holiday”, she continued “my takings on these machines go down £200 a week”. I remember being shocked. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.
I wondered why had she just spoke to me? Why not wait until we were all together? She offered me a drink and said come and have a chat at the bar, tell me about your school. I remember this clearly for two reasons Firstly, getting a free pint at the pub was not a common occurrence as a student, and secondly she always referred to our college and university courses as school – we hated it.
It was an excellent responsible gambling interaction. I didn’t realise it straight away. I didn’t stop gambling there and then, and I certainly didn’t really reflect on the fact on whether I had a problem with gambling then. But it certainly planted a seed.
It took time but that seed started to grow. My years as a student came to an end and I returned home.
From time to time I would still play pub fruit machines, probably sometimes experiencing a level of gambling harm, but I often thought about the talk I had with the pub manager back at college and would be able to check my behaviour. I promised myself not to go back to the old habits of my student days.
Eventually I settled down, met my wife and had children. I can honestly say I cannot remember the last time I put money in a pub fruit machine. For a while I didn’t think about gambling or my experience at college at all, until I started working in a bookmakers.
During my time in the betting industry I witnessed a lot of behaviour and activity that could be described as signs of gambling harm. By now I had built up some strong experience in delivering good customer service through working in retail and combined with my own personal college experience, I felt better placed to make good interactions whenever I spotted signs of harm. But truthfully, it just wasn’t that easy. Yes, we had training and tools to help support customers, but having that initial conversation and acting on what you had seen was never easy and didn’t always go to plan.
I can recall plenty of interactions that went wrong or led to conflict . But I can also recall occasions when interactions went well – from having a good chat with a customer over a cuppa to shaking the hand of a customer who had just completed an exclusion and wishing them well.
Whatever the weather we kept planting seeds. I have no idea how many of these were effective but we kept trying, and I would like to think myself and colleagues got better at them with practice.
Do the small things well and it becomes a big thing
Going back to our industry talks, at Gordon Moody we are always keen to encourage the importance of small interactions because they can have a great impact for the future. Especially if these interactions are made at a human level and are sincere. You have got to care.
The UK Gambling Commission and the BGC (Betting and Gaming Council) released guidelines earlier in lockdown calling for increased responsible gambling interactions – especially online in the absence of land-based betting due to lockdown closures.
It’s encouraging to read that safer gambling messages and interactions increased during the pandemic, with messages up by 150% and interactions up by 25% according to a BGC report.
Guidance on interactions can be found on the UKGC website and the BGC’s 10 safer gambling pledges.
If you are an operator, and would like to discuss interactions further with Gordon Moody, we would be happy to work with your frontline colleagues. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will always be very grateful for the interaction I received. It wasn’t until I joined the team at Gordon Moody that I reflected on my behaviour and realised I could relate to so many of the journeys our residents had been on.
I was very fortunate. My getting to the pub early and gambling on my own, spending too much time gambling and gambling more than I could afford were all classic signs of gambling harm that could have developed if not for an intervention and my life heading in a different direction.
My advice is simple. Keep planting those seeds, keep talking, look after yourself and those around you. Let’s tackle gambling addiction together.
Please remember we are open, we are here to help, and we are still accepting applications for residential and other treatment, whatever the twists and turns of the Covid-19 regulations.
To apply for treatment at Gordon Moody visit www.gordonmoody.org.uk or for more information call us on 01384 241292.
The National Gambling Helpline is available 24/7 call free on 0808 802 0133.
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