‘Many realise they have a problem when it’s too late’ – RGF General Manager

Kevin O’Neill
Kevin O’Neill, General Manager at the Responsible Gaming Foundation

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 September, 2021 at 11:22 am by Andre Camilleri

Dayna Camilleri Clarke speaks to Kevin O’Neill, General Manager at the Responsible Gaming Foundation  in his first interview since taking up the position.

Following several years heading the Player Support Unit within the Malta Gaming Authority, Kevin O’Neill was appointed General Manager of the Responsible Gaming Foundation last June. During his tenure with the Regulator, Kevin became more keenly aware of the harms associated with excessive gambling and related risks through direct interactions with players. O’Neill is a firm believer that Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethical Leadership could potentially produce a transformational effect on the gambling and gaming industries.

Could you give us a brief overview of the Responsible Gaming Foundation?

Since its inception in 2014, the Foundation’s mission has remained unchanged: creating a broader awareness of problem gambling in Malta, with a particular focus on the prevention of harm. Additionally, providing the necessary support and advice to problem gamblers and their significant others remains our key focus. Research is also a critical part of the Foundation’s work, as is education. Over the years, the Foundation has also launched various initiatives that promote activities alternative to excessive gaming and gambling.

What are the current best practices that operators should be looking at?

In terms of Responsible Gambling (RG), the industry has seen a collective shift towards offering players a safer, more transparent and fairer user experience, an overall higher level of duty of care, if you will. The exciting aspect of this development is that this push seems to have been born not out of any obligation mandated by regulatory or compliance constraints. Still, it stems from an authentic desire to promote a more ethical offering. So it has become common to see operators not simply meet but exceed their regulatory requirements where RG is concerned.

Has the FATF greylisting impacted your work?

It is somewhat early to gauge the ramifications the FATF greylisting will have on our work as a Foundation, indeed on the sector as a whole, but suffice it to say that our mission will remain consistent for as long as gambling retains its legitimacy as a popular source of entertainment.

And the pandemic?

The pandemic has certainly taught most organisations how to be more resourceful in the remote working world, and the Foundation was no exception. Even though the nature of our work and support services being mainly call-based and web-based, our offices are open to those individuals who wish to activate a self-barring request or to simply seek advice and support. This significant component was maintained, albeit in a more restrictive manner. Nevertheless, many lessons were learnt.

How has the setup of the Foundation influenced and changed the role of the MGA?

The MGA (then the Lotteries and Gaming Authority), together with Government, are the RGF’s founders; therefore, it is fair to say that the Regulator and Government had the foresight in establishing the Foundation to ensure a perpetual balance between the fulfilment of the country’s economic goals and the ethical expectations imposed by social norms. Effectively, the Foundation complements the MGA’s sterling work regarding Responsible Gaming and Player Protection.

What challenges and opportunities is the Foundation facing today?

As far as challenges go, getting individuals to see that they have a problem and require support is at the top of the list. Sadly, many understand that they have a problem when it is too late, so yes, doubling our efforts in reaching as many individuals as possible with the right kind of support remains our main challenge.

As for opportunities, we see massive developments on the technological front (AI) being applied to player protection, and the early detection of compulsive gambling as exciting. We will undoubtedly be exploring how we can support these innovative initiatives.

What is your vision for the future development of Malta as a safe and secure gambling and gaming jurisdiction?

I firmly believe that this cause is a collective effort that all stakeholders need to buy into to ensure sustainability. Having a robust regulatory framework is certainly a strong foundation, but every stakeholder has a responsibility in building upon that foundation. Again, there seems to be a broad consensus that raising the standards bar is no longer an option but a necessity. This drive for excellence gives us comfort that we are on the right track to seeing Malta consolidate its reputation as a secure gambling and gaming jurisdiction.

Will you be collaborating with NGOs that fight Gambling addiction?

Undoubtedly. Both local and international ones. Our cause, goals and objectives are the same, so it certainly makes sense to pool our resources and present a common front. Supporting one another is especially crucial for non-profit organisations. There may be minor disagreements about what constitutes “Responsible Gaming”, but there is convergence over this vital subject for the most part.

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