Lisbon, photo: iStock
Last month I attended the eleventh European International Conference on Gambling Studies and Policy Issues in Lisbon, Portugal. The conference, held by the European Association for the Study of Gambling, ran from 13 to 16 September. It is Europe’s biggest gathering of international gambling researchers, gambling treatment providers, regulators, policymakers and industry representatives.
Over 300 delegates came from most European countries, South-East Asia, South America, Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia.
One larger-than-life presence was Pieter Remmers, the face of the European Association for the Study of Gambling.
Maestro of the gambling field
Pieter knows just about everybody there is to know in the gambling research, treatment and industry sectors in Europe and, increasingly, around the world. However, he became acquainted with the field of gambling by accident in the 1980s.
With a background in economics and management, Pieter was director of outpatients at Amsterdam’s Jellinek – the largest alcohol and drug treatment provider in the Netherlands. In the early 1980s, he developed employee assistance programs to support the wellbeing of workers in the alcohol and drug sector. This led, in 1989, to developing an employee assistance program for Holland Casino, the only gambling operator with a casino licence in the Netherlands.
In 1993, Pieter co-founded the European Association for the Study of Gambling as a forum for study, discussion and dissemination of knowledge about gambling in Europe. This includes historical, economic and social aspects; development, enforcement and evaluation of regulation; marketing and management of gambling operations; and problem gambling prevention and treatment programs.
The association held the first European International Conference on Gambling Studies and Policy Issues in Cambridge in the UK in 1994. Pieter has since attended all eleven conferences and was appointed secretary general of the association’s board ten years ago.
How research, treatment and the industry have changed
Over the past 23 years, Pieter has seen the focus of gambling research and the role of industry change. In the early years, problem gambling and treatment were key topics, and studies on gambling participation, behaviour and prevalence were common.
Now there is more discussion about gambling harm – what contributes to it and how it may be prevented and treated. Like many others in the field, he says a clear definition of gambling harm is needed, as is a solid understanding of the social costs of gambling harm. These are areas that need more research to inform policy and practice.
‘From the sessions in Lisbon, there is clear consensus that we should not only focus on prevalence studies, but also think of other possibilities to measure the effect of gambling on the individual, and how to deal with it,’ he says.
Pieter believes personalised, rather than generalised, treatment options would make a big difference to reducing gambling harm.
‘I would like to see treatment solutions that acknowledge the wide variety of individual needs, and go beyond traditional face-to-face options to include more informal alternatives.’
A clear definition of gambling harm is needed, as is a solid understanding of the social costs of gambling harm.
Pieter also recognises the important role industry plays in the provision of responsible gambling. He has observed that the industry is slowly taking more responsibility, but says this is usually in response to regulatory requirements.
‘Very slowly the industry is taking a more proactive approach, but this is something we have only seen a little of in the past 25 years. It is moving at a snail’s pace.’
He notes that in the years of global economic crisis, less attention was paid to corporate social responsibility, problem gambling and responsible gambling.
‘Now that the economic landscape is less critical, more attention is being paid to the vulnerable again.’
Pieter’s views were reflected in the theme of the September conference: Development of the invisible and unknown: research, responsibilities and regulation. Many sessions were allocated to gambling harm and its prevention, as well as to responsible gambling practices and regulation.