OPINION-Responsible Gaming and the new gaming concessions

But gamblers know how a man can sit for almost twenty-four hours at cards, without looking to right, or to left.”

This quotation from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s bestseller book “The Gambler” came to my mind when I learned of the recent episode involving the fine of United Kingdom casino operator, Aspers, following the suicide of one of its Stratford, London Casino VIP customers, after losing £25,000 in just a few hours playing live dealer roulette at a gaming table.

Óscar Alberto Madureira, lawyer
Head of Portuguese Desk – Lektou Advogados

According to the UK Gambling Commission, Aspers casino floor managers failed in its social responsibility of properly monitoring a problematic gambler, and to intervene in a way that could have prevented such individual to commit suicide. For that conduct, Aspers received a fine of £1,800,000.

The fine was later reduced to £652,500 following representations and evidence received from Aspers regarding its financial circumstances, particularly considering the Covid-19 pandemic and measures.

In addition, Aspers agreed to divest itself from the gross gambling yield (“GGY”) in the sum of £78,233, which it had accumulated because of its failings in relation to this and another player.

On its investigation, the UK Gambling Commission found weaknesses in Aspers policies, procedures, and controls to prevent money laundering, and has also identified weaknesses in Aspers social responsibility policies and procedures.

The Commission also determined that Aspers should undertake a follow-up independent audit of relevant policies and procedures within six months, to ensure the improvements recommended by the Asper Groups Internal Report have been made and are effective, and that any further recommendations made by the independent audit should be implemented thereafter.

The UKGC CEO released a statement on their website; “We will be watching their future conduct closely and this case highlights why all operators must not only have clear policies in place but that they are up to date and implemented by staff who have the correct training to spot signs of gambling harm or unusual patterns of play.”

The reason why one decided to bring this case to readers’ attention is because problematic gambling is still a matter subject to scarce discussion in Macau. Despite one recognizing strong improvements enacted by the local regulator, there is still significant room for improvement and the correct timing to start implementing some new measures could be in 2022, when the current concessions are supposed to meet their term.

Matters involving the implementation of betting and credit limits, access to casino floor by excluded patrons, problematic gambling tracking and extension of existing gaming limitations of concessionaires’ employees should be carefully considered by Macau regulator and legislator.

Also, eligibility to apply for patron’s exclusion should be revised to allow close family members to effectively apply for patron’s exclusion without the requirement of having the latter accepting such application. It would also be important to actively involve local gaming promoters in responsible gaming activities.

Gaming promoters are sometimes the closest to the patron, knowing exactly if the client is exceeding acceptable betting limits, or suffering stress caused by long term exposure to betting activity or significant losses.

It would be crucial, therefore, to establish strong responsible gaming regulations for gaming promoters as well.
Finally, one also believes that in order to take valid and effective measures, the regulator would need compelling data capable to identify not only the problematic trends and behaviors, but also allow the regulator to define a strategy to fight against such problems, namely through the enactment of new legislation or guidelines.

A deep survey on the prevalence of problematic gambling within the gaming floor workers would certainly help with the enactment of strong and updated legal framework also on this matter.

Data collected worldwide, shows a clear link between gaming floor workers, namely dealers, and problems such gaming addiction. In Macau, there are no records to allow the understanding as to whether such a trend is also applicable in the SAR and taking into consideration that, to be a dealer in Macau, one needs to hold a Macau ID Card. It would be appropriate to confirm such trend or not.

Despite the recognized value of Macau’s legal framework on the casino industry, one emphasizes that the great majority of the existing regulations were drafted and subsequently enacted at a time where the local gaming industry was not even close to the results achieved in recent years.

Besides, both the world and Macau suffered significant changes since the said legislation was enacted. Responsible gaming legal framework is not excluded from such development, and is definitely one of the key topics to be reviewed in order to prepare Macau for the new era of its gaming industry.