From product expert to safer gambling innovator: iGaming NEXT spoke with Better Change co-founder Victoria Reed on overcoming regulatory red tape and industry resistance.
When Reed first received a phone call from a recruiter in 2014 to join Gala Bingo, she initially thought: “Why on earth would they think of me for this? He must have called the wrong person. After all, Victoria Reed is a common name.”
Yet, as the recruiter delved into the rationale behind the offer, the pieces began to fall into place.
Gala Bingo was in the midst of reshaping its trajectory and had envisioned a future where loyalty and engagement would be paramount.
Reed, who at the time was working in tech in San Francisco, had a strong background in business transformation, mostly for businesses in mature, saturated markets that needed to differentiate or expand into international markets.
Having been involved in devising strategies for loyalty initiatives like the Nectar Card scheme for Sainsbury’s supermarkets, Reed possessed insights that could breathe new life into the world of bingo.
“At that time, it was about Gala’s VIP strategy, and I thought it was interesting and agreed to join Gala for a few months,” she explains.
Although she swiftly recognised that Gala wasn’t the ideal match for her, she remained committed to the industry and had a fortunate encounter with Rakesh Chablani, the managing director of Betfred.
“He was very much interested in future-proofing Betfred and looked towards Betfred 2.0.
“He used to be the commercial director, and he said I have a role for you in product development. That’s when I realised that player protection can be commercially beneficial,” she recalls.
Going all in
Reed pitched a series of safer gambling ideas to the board, which gained strong support.
However, a recurring condition emerged: “Consult the regulators and get their approval before proceeding.”
However, when she outlined her plans to regulators, they offered little guidance, stating that they don’t provide advice on such matters.
“It really frustrated me,” she says. “And obviously no board would go ahead without a [concrete] answer.”
Thinking her time in gaming was over, Reed ultimately resolved to shift her entire focus towards enhancing the player experience and she co-founded Better Change in 2020.
Offering innovative technology solutions, customer interactions and regulatory affairs consultancy, Better Change’s mission is to collaborate with organisations to promote the concept of “Positive Play”.
Upon the launch of Better Change, Reed held the belief that her industry experience would garner favourable attention from regulators. Yet, this anticipation didn’t always match the outcome.
The notion that Better Change doesn’t adopt “an anti-gambling stance” seemed to provoke greater skepticism from regulators, in her view.
“Our aim was to gain approval from the UK Gambling Commission for funding access, but it took 19 months of constantly changing criteria, which meant we had to pivot the business to survive.”
One major concern of Reed’s was that self-excluded players would return to gambling once their exclusion period ended, potentially slipping back into the same harmful playing patterns.
This prompted Better Change to establish an interaction programme. Under this programme, players are provided with a chance to interact with a clinical team, referred to as “gambling ambassadors,” aimed at promoting participation. These ambassadors guide individuals in learning strategies to “effectively safeguard themselves” if they do decide to reengage in gambling.
Another significant tool within Better Change’s arsenal is a product known as Gamblewise. This product can be downloaded for free and essentially assists players in managing their gaming, including in land-based venues.
Players can set limits and parameters through their phones, by for example only visiting on Fridays and spending no more than two hours per visit.
“Upon entering, you can register through your phone. As you approach your set limit, a notification prompts you to consider leaving,” Reed explains. “Alternatively, you can opt for a stronger intervention, even involving a staff member to assist in a graceful exit.”
On the educational front, Better Change has chosen an unconventional approach.
“Gambling awareness within supportive housing is one of our primary areas of focus, but we’ve taken a different angle by also discussing careers in gambling. Starting with player protection often serves as an effective foundation,” she explains.
“Our training involves teaching residents how to identify behaviours that may signal gambling tendencies in potential customers. We then prompt them to reflect on whether they’ve observed such behaviours in themselves, family members or housemates. And many residents can relate.
“We then guide them on intervening with a friend in a similar situation, as this mirrors how they could interact with potential customers,” she adds.
Guidance on career development, CVs, interview techniques, and dressing for success is also provided.
Accountability and transparency
It is vital that funds contributed by operators for safer gambling initiatives yield tangible results, according to Reed.
“I believe it’s crucial for operators to begin asking more questions about where their contributions are going.”
Over the course of her career, she has observed that operators often neglect this aspect.
“I want to make sure that there’s accountability in everything we do. We make it a point to consistently showcase our overheads, laying out precisely where every contribution is directed.
“Presently, we haven’t yet reached a break-even point. However, we’ve channeled every penny of our resources into our initiatives to demonstrate the impact we can create.
“As founders, we’ve personally funded these efforts, a practice that’s not sustainable in the long term. But we really wanted to prove that there’s an alternative approach.”
Reed is encouraging operators to give Better Change a chance.
“We can readily provide an account of what each supporter has enabled us to achieve. The response has been genuinely positive, and I believe this transparency will propel us forward.”
Reed says her aim is to establish a good relationship with as many operators as possible and adds that she’s not “the type that would give up”.
She is further motivated by what she describes as an encouraging shift from responsible gambling being a mere tick-box exercise to a more comprehensive approach.
Nonetheless, there is still ample space for innovation within this evolving landscape, she points out.
“This is definitely what I believe in, and I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life,” she says.
Faced with several challenges, Reed regularly reminds herself that nothing of true value comes easily.