GamCare Highlights Need for Responsible Mobile Operators

19 February 2007

The mobile gambling market is on the verge of exploding in Europe and Asia. Market research firm Juniper Research estimates that the global mobile entertainment market is worth $17.3 billion now and will rise to $76.9 billion by 2011. Given these figures and the inevitable growth of the sector, charity organizations such as GamCare want to see mobile phone companies step up and take responsibility for their part in the games market.

British newspaper the Times on Feb. 12 reported that U.K. mobile games developer Cecure Gaming inked a deal with German mobile company T-Mobile to deliver casino games to T-Mobile's platform. Cecure has a similar agreement with U.K. mobile company Vodafone.

GamCare is calling on mobile groups that earn money through mobile gambling, such as T-Mobile and Vodafone, to make donations to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, which distributes money to problem gambling support organizations.

"We would suggest that it would be appropriate for those [companies] who are, after all, marketing [gambling] as a product -- even though the platform might be provided by a back-end technology company -- we feel that, to the extent that their customers are being offered the opportunity to gamble, then the mobile phone companies might consider their social responsibility in relation to people who might get into problems with gambling and, in recognition of that, consider contributions to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, which is our principle funding body, and they also fund other charitable organizations in the sector," said GamCare Communications Director Nicola Crewe-Read.

A spokesman for Vodafone, which carries Cecure games on its Vodafone Live! service, told the Times that the group "did not see itself as a gambling company, but as a channel, and as a result we don't give donations."

Crewe-Read was taken aback by Vodafone's flippant attitude in the Times article. She said she had spoken with the company's director of communications, Bobby Leach, and he was unaware of the comment.

"I did find it surprising that Vodafone regarded themselves as simply a channel because that suggests that they have no responsibility for the product they are offering their customers," Crewe-Read said. "I just thought that bearing in mind the likes of Vodafone do profess quite loudly on the subject of social responsibility, then maybe to the extent that they are offering gambling products on their telephones -- which is a platform that the Gambling Commission is nervous of in any event because of the size of the screen and the ability to show where you can go for help, within the technical limitations of that platform -- that maybe the mobile phone companies should be recognizing that even though they may not be able to show it on the screen of the phone, they should certainly recognize that it is something that they should be doing, and perhaps consider contributing to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust."

With mobile phone technology being accessible to so many people, including children, GamCare is especially concerned with underage access to mobile gambling.

"I don't know how accessible these casino games are going to be to kids with mobile phones," Crewe-Read said. "Can you allow kids access to these games or can you exclude them? I don't see how you could exclude them other than by virtue of the fact that most kids are on pay-as-you-go and they might not have the credits."

GamCare has certified a handful of gaming companies and is working with more all the time. Age verification is one of the most important criteria in achieving accreditation with GamCare, followed by the ability to limit the time one can play in any one session; the ability to limit the amount you can spend in any one session and the ability to exclude yourself from the site, Crewe-Read said.

Vodafone's Content Standards policy states: "We care about our customers and have developed tools to combat spam and enable parents to protect their children from inappropriate content, contact and commercialism. The implementation of our content standards varies between markets reflecting local cultures and specific areas of concern. Our goal is to ensure our customers are satisfied with our service and in control of how they use it. That is why Vodafone is leading the mobile sector in adopting content standards."

Calls to Vodafone were not returned.

There are certain companies that operate under responsible gambling practices, and are accredited by GamCare.

U.K. National Lottery operator Camelot has joined with U.K.-based mobile operator Orange to develop new lottery games for mobile users. If Camelot retains rights to the National Lottery, it will create lottery games--via the new deal--specifically designed for mobile phones, as well as a "lottery ticket shop" for broadband users, among other digital facilities.

"If you look at the statements Camelot made in relation to the proposed tie-up with Orange in the context of its new bid," Crewe-Read said. "To the extent that they will be able to offer Camelot's games on the mobile platform, Camelot are the most socially responsible operators around and indeed contribute to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust."

Under the deal, announced on Feb. 4, Camelot and Orange will jointly develop age verification and payment services to make it easy and safe for Orange customers over the age of 16 to register and play National Lottery games through their mobile phones.

Camelot was the first organization to receive accreditation from GamCare and it raises more than £500,000 every week for Good Causes, a fund for national charity projects.

"I can't quite see how Camelot and Orange differ from Vodafone and poker games," Crewe-Read said.

While the proliferation of mobile gaming is cause for concern in the problem gambling support industry, Crewe-Read said the call for responsibility in the sector applies not just to mobile companies. The Gambling Commission is currently investigating whether football clubs that are in high value shared sponsorship partnerships with online gambling companies should also be considering their responsibilities, she said.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.