‘Wrong side of history’: Gambling Commission CEO urges industry to modernise and diversify

A more diverse gambling industry can help the Gambling Commission’s drive for good governance and safer and fairer gambling, says outgoing CEO Sarah Harrison.

Harrison, bound for a role at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was speaking yesterday at Global Gaming Women as part of the ICE Totally Gaming Conference in London.

Harrison has been credited with giving the industry more teeth since her appointment in October 2015 but would like her legacy, in some form, to be the increasing diversity of a white male-dominated industry.

“It will come as no surprise for me to tell you that this sector is very white and very male. The lack of women working in the sector, in senior roles or otherwise, is staggering.

“I hope that this year will be last year that my female executives, managers and colleagues have to hear the stories of promo girls, bikinis and pole dancers as they start to plan their visit to ICE.”

The mother of two made reference to gambling statistics during her speech – 44% of women have gambled in the last four weeks compared to 53% of men with 17% of people gambling online in that period, on sites such as online casino site

The most popular activities were the National Lottery (46%), scratch cards (23%) and lotteries more generally (15%) amongst all gamblers, men and women.

“So women do gamble,” added Harrison.

“They don’t necessarily gamble in the same way as men, but they certainly could do and they will participate.

“So if you are not attracting women to your business then you need to think about why that is, because any idea that women are simply not interested in gambling is not the case.

“And just as we need to understand women that gamble in more detail, we also must ensure that we understand the needs of those women at risk of harm from gambling.”

Around 2.5 million people in Britain are problem gamblers or at risk of problem gambling – 430,000 problem gamblers approximately, 460,000 at moderate risk and 1,430,000 at low risk.

For these groups, gambling can be associated with higher levels of physical and mental illness, debt problems, relationship breakdown and, in some cases, criminality and substance misuse, said Harrison.


Harrison said despite the fact it is illegal to discriminate against anyone, she was not suggesting the huge lack of diversity in the industry was down to companies’ active or passive prejudice.

Rather she focused on recognising and valuing people’s different backgrounds and skills in an effort to create and cohesive and effective workforce.

“It is also good for business. Organisations that prioritise diversity and inclusion gain a higher market share and have a competitive edge in accessing new markets,” said Harrison.

“Those that don’t embrace diversity get left behind – they are not as equipped as they could be to face emerging challenges and seize new opportunities.

“They are quite literally on the wrong side of history.”

Harrison’s speech, coinciding roughly with the centenary of the women’s right to vote, clearly supports working women and those in the larger industries, such as gambling.

It is a step in the right direction, and helps to maximise the experiences available to people who are outside of the stereotypical high industry worker.

“Women do not necessarily gamble in the same way in which men do, but it is not as though they are unable to participate,” she added.

“This fact almost belittles women’s intelligence and dismisses them from something which they are at liberty to enjoy.”

Until a permanent replacement can take up Harrison’s post Neil McArthur, the commission’s chief counsel and executive director, will step in from Feb 28.

Image courtesy of ICETotallyGaming via YouTube, with thanks.

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