Trade Group Chief Knocks UK Regulator’s Absence

The interim head of the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) has criticised the UK Gambling Commission for passing up this week’s ICE conference in London.

The UK regulator, overseer of the world’s largest legalised online gambling market, declined to attend ICE, billed as the world’s largest gambling conference, and interim RGA chief executive Wes Himes was unhappy.

“I see here regulators, good regulators from other countries who have come from all over to see innovation, but our own Gambling Commission won’t come here,” Himes said.

“The Gambling Commission says it wants to collaborate, but I can’t collaborate with an empty chair,” he said.

About 30,000 are attending the event, which runs until the end of today, according to organiser Clarion Gaming.

Himes was speaking Wednesday on a “Raising Standards in Responsible Gambling” panel organised by software developer Playtech.

Last year, the former CEO of the commission used the event’s keynote speech to criticise the presence of scantily clad women as booth staff and what she suggested was the related issue of gender disparity in the industry. 

The event got worldwide publicity, with tabloid publications The Sun and The Mail happy to criticise the displays of flesh via stories that featured at least a dozen photos each.

Clarion responded this year with a ban on “partial or total nudity or overtly sexual or suggestive clothing or marketing methods”, but the commission declined to attend, saying it wanted to focus on its own projects for industry engagement.

Pressed for comment, the commission said it had nothing to add to its previous statement, which made no direct mention of the sexism controversy.

Dress at the ICE conference this week did appear toned down from previous years, with clowns, harlequins, Transformer-style robots and Asian-themed dragons stalking the floor.

At one booth, a sequin-clad man with a white beehive hairdo and platform shoes was paired with a similarly clad woman with a blue-rinse bouffant hairstyle in curlers and a scarf.

Two companies warned last year by Clarion appeared to be spoofing the dress code.

EGT Interactive replaced lingerie-clad angels with angels wearing dresses, and added a costume-clad team including a bearded male mandarin and a farmer complete with pitchfork. 

Endorphina drew fire last year for pole dancers and a carnival-style wheel with sex toys as prizes.

It replaced the pole dancers with a balding man doing what appeared to be ballet moves, and a carnival wheel giving away branded sandals and a cookbook.

Still, one video monitor displayed its slot-machine game, Twerk, named for the provocative dance move, which invited gamblers to win by matching scantily clad female bottoms.

Interestingly, a snap Playtech poll at the Wes Himes talk had voters split 50-50 on whether the Gambling Commission was right in not attending the conference.

Earlier this week, Himes had taken a more conciliatory tone toward the Gambling Commission, saying he was committed to an “open and constructive relationship”.

The commission is “a regulator, it’s not designed to be an industry support mechanism, not designed to be a promoter”, he said at a Wiggin Betting and Gaming Seminar in London.

But some in the industry felt it was “moving the goalpost on risk”, with a series of costly penalties last year "that raised the stakes considerably”, Himes added.

Still, the industry is “poised to reset” its relationship with steps including launching voluntary restrictions on advertising around sports events, and its ongoing work with data analysis, customer interaction and identity verification, he said.  

Himes is heading the London- and Brussels-based trade group temporarily after the departure this month of long-time CEO Clive Hawkswood.

Lyndsay Wright, William Hill’s director of strategy and sustainability, said the RGA is working to address public and political concerns about gambling ads, with plans to curb the volume of ads and calls to action, along with working to try to ensure they are less likely to be seen by minors.