Departing UKGC Chief Fires Final Shots at Gambling Industry

Sarah Harrison pulled no punches when she delivered a scathing message to UK gambling operators, accusing the industry of sexism and stating that she has seen “the good the bad and the ugly” of the sector.

The outgoing Harrison warned that the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) would boycott the ICE Totally Gaming event, the world’s largest gambling industry conference, unless sexism was stamped out. She criticised companies that use “scantily clad” women to attract people to their product displays, claiming that the event was a place where women are ‘expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits’.

In a month which has seen the end of Formula 1 grid girls and walk-on-girls for professional dart players at televised events, Harrison called for a similar response to what she calls a “significant stain on the industry’s reputation”.

This is an industry where we have a number of talented, powerful and successful women. Yet from walking around the exhibition you wouldn’t know this. Instead, you saw men representing their companies wearing expensive tailored suits whilst their female colleagues were expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits. I say bring this to an end now. Sarah Harrison, Chief Executive, UK Gambling Commission

In response to industry types who have previously accused the UKGC of “taking a head-teacherly tone”, Harrison wondered what else operators should expect “when the nature of debate between different parts of the industry is often no better than what you might find in the playground.”

Sarah Harrison did say that despite “paunchy slot machine buyers going up to get their pictures taken with Playboy bunnies and girls in body paint,” that she had never seen any predatory behaviour like that reported at the men-only Presidents Club, where female staff were allegedly groped and sexually harassed.

Hired promotion girls at the ICE Gaming Conference in 2016

Hired promotion girls at the ICE Gaming Conference in 2016 ©FINARM.

Harrison has been chief executive of the UK Gambling Commission for two and half years but is now moving to broaden the commission’s reach and input from wider industry stakeholders. She also pointed out that UK operators are failing to fund industry charity, GambleAware. “Just £3.50 is raised for every consumer who is at risk or is a problem gambler. This compares badly with many other countries and it is lamentable that Britain is towards the bottom of this particular international index,” said Harrison.

One area the UKGC chief executive highlighted that the industry, in general, must improve is its customer service. “We hear about it [bad customer service] through our contact centre, from consumer groups and on social media – some of these are quite basic issues, like not responding to complaints,” she said.

A full transcript of Sarah Harrison’s speech has been made available online.

The ICE Totally Gaming Conference, which is organised by European Casino Association (ECA) and Clarion Gaming, takes place at ExCeL London between Tuesday 6th and Thursday 8th February 2018.

UPDATE: 08/02/2019 Undercover footage taken by The Guardian revealed that gambling companies decided to defy UKGC calls to stamp out sexism at the event.

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