US betting lines get a bump
Any readers not currently living under a rock will have this week witnessed the furore surrounding reports that cocaine has been discovered in the White House.
Unlike in the UK, where finding blow in the Houses of Parliament or the government’s ‘grace-and-favour’ house at Chevening is so commonplace as to be considered positively mundane, in the US the revelation has sparked quite the controversy.
As reported by the Washington Times, chatter around who the marching powder belonged to has become so widespread that bookmakers are now looking to get in on the action.
That’s right, offshore bookie SportsBetting.ag is currently offering bets on who brought the devil’s dandruff into the White House, with current President Joe Biden’s son Hunter a firm favourite.
Bets on the yayo belonging to Hunter are paying out at +170 (that’s 7/4 for normal people), while other possible suspects on the list include NFL star Travis Kelce (8/1), “one of the Jonas Brothers” (10/1) and President Biden himself (150/1).
“It gets sillier from there,” the Washington Times reports. “Other celebrities with odds include Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Elton John, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Brady.”
It’s unlikely the smart money will be lumped on either President Biden or Elton John at this stage, given their advanced years (80 and 76 years, respectively) and the powder’s proclivity for wreaking havoc with users’ tickers.
Add to that the slew of videos of favourite Hunter Biden seemingly channeling his inner Tony Montana, and it’s probably fair to assume where most bettors’ money will be going.
For lovers of novelty bets, this is one market not to be sniffed at.
Just how big is the UK’s Gambling Problem?
On to a more *ahem* sober topic, now, as The Critic this week published a piece called “The problem with problem gambling”.
The article zooms in on the UK, where more than seven million patients are currently stuck on National Health Service waiting lists to get the treatment they need.
Add to that “hundreds of excess deaths a week and a five day doctors’ strike to look forward to,” and the article took issue with the chief executive of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, having appeared on TV this past weekend to instead talk about gambling.
Pritchard announced during her appearance that seven new gambling clinics are set to open in the UK, to meet a “really significant increase in demand” for problem gambling treatments.
“This is good news,” The Critic reports, given that “there is solid evidence that treatment, especially cognitive behavioural therapy, works in tackling gambling disorders.”
However, the outlet did take issue with the way Pritchard presented her case.
“Back in 1948 when the NHS was founded, you had to go to a bookie shop to place a bet. Now it’s 24/7 on people’s phones,” she said.
The Critic pointed out that betting shops were not legalised in the UK until 1961, which “doesn’t undermine her argument, such as it is, but it suggests that she is not entirely on top of her brief.”
What does undermine her argument, the piece suggested, is that “the rates of problem gambling have not risen since people started gambling on their phones.”
According to the article, rates at the population level have “never” risen significantly during the 24 years they have been monitored, and in fact appear to have fallen since 2020.
Other statements in the media around “record referrals” and soaring rates of people seeking treatment are similarly disingenuous, the piece suggested.
“The number of referrals has indeed risen, from 775 in 2020/21 to 1,389 in 2022/23,” the piece reports.
It goes on to ask: “Is 1,389 referrals in a year a big number in a country of 68 million souls? It amounts to three patients per clinic per week.
“It means that last year, 0.002% of the population sought professional help from an NHS gambling clinic.”
That number should be considered in perspective, it argues.
With nearly 400,000 patients waiting more than a year to get their correct appointment via the NHS, does the service have bigger fish to fry?
Pass the remote
Bad news for the working-from-home brigade this week (Hot Copy authors included), as Fortune reported that “fully remote workers are officially less productive.”
The ability to work from wherever you please has “gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have” for many workers in recent years, it said, with some 40% of US employees now working remotely at least one day per week.
But, it added, citing research from professors Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis, “fully remote work is associated with 10% to 20% lower productivity than fully in-person work.”
Following the introduction of remote and hybrid work structures during the pandemic, worker productivity “has been plummeting for five straight quarters, for the first time since World War II,” it said, which helps explain why so many big business CEOs have recently been demanding a return to offices.
Apparently, the root cause of this productivity slump is not laziness, but that remote workers face challenges in the areas of communication and motivation.
Supervising, training, mentoring and building company culture is also much more difficult through a screen, the article added.
The piece goes on to set out some of the above-mentioned researchers’ findings in more granular detail, exploring the differences in productivity before and after firms switched from a fully in-person to a fully remote working model.
It also explores the difference between workers’ ‘per day’ and ‘per hour’ productivity, and why remote workers may in fact find themselves working longer hours just to get the same amount of work done.
It concludes by arguing that a hybrid setup is likely the superior solution to this particular problem, with workers able to benefit from the best of both worlds.
As long as that means employees can continue to spend less time commuting, with more time to address their work/life balance, most staff will probably be happy enough with that.
Slots supplier Play’n GO has moved to a fully remote operating model and intends to shut down all global office locations by the end of next year.
After the news was exclusively revealed by iGaming NEXT yesterday, we caught up with Play’n GO chief people officer James Trusler to learn more about the company’s decision-making process.
iGaming Next: Play’n GO made headlines this week by moving to a ‘digital first’ way of working. What is the thinking behind that approach?
James Trusler: I’m pretty sure that every company in our post-pandemic world will be grappling with questions around ways of working and what makes the most sense for their business and their people.
For us, we looked closely at how our staff were behaving when they were given total freedom to choose between working from our offices or remotely. We also undertook a robust consultation with our staff to ask about their future preferences, as well as looked at what was most beneficial to our business in the future.
The outcome of those steps was clear. A digital first workplace is the future of Play’n GO.
iGN: What are the plans and timelines for your office closures?
JT: We grew our UK-based headcount significantly during Covid, which ended up vastly higher than our London office could accommodate, and that provided us with a perfect pilot opportunity.
We took the decision to close our physical London office late last year and implemented initiatives like co-working club memberships to continue to support our large UK-based team if they don’t wish to, or are unable to, work from their homes.
It’s been a major success. Of course, removing the need to have staff within a set commutable distance to London has allowed us to recruit from all over the UK, which has given us access to talent we wouldn’t have before. We now have staff based in the UK from all over Scotland, Wales and England too.
Learning from our experience in closing our physical space in London gave us the confidence to roll this programme out to the rest of the business. Our physical Budapest office closed in May this year and our space in Manila will close in October. We are planning to have exited all our physical office space by October 2024.
iGN: How many employees does Play’n GO employ and in how many countries?
JT: We’ve grown considerably over the past few years and I’m proud to say that we now have 750 staff worldwide.
It’s important to note that while we may be closing physical offices, we are actually adding countries from which our staff can be based, with Spain and Poland joining our ranks within the past few months.
Anyone who wishes to work for Play’n GO can do so, being based anywhere within the UK, Spain, Sweden, Malta, Poland, Hungary, the Philippines or certain states within the US, where we have gained employment licences.
We think that’s a pretty compelling offer to the hugely talented individuals within the iGaming industry and beyond.
iGN: Why was the decision taken to move to a 100% remote workforce? What are the benefits and advantages?
JT: The world has changed. Or, I should probably say that our Play’n GO world has certainly changed, post-Covid.
On the face of it, the decision was very easy. Our colleagues weren’t coming into our offices in any significant numbers after they opened up again after the pandemic.
This would have been a problem that needed addressing if we saw that productivity and engagement were down, for example, but for Play’n GO specifically, the vast majority of our employees were absolutely thriving digitally.
They really appreciated the benefits of digital first experiences – saving time and money on commuting, being able to spend more time with their families, or being able to dedicate more time to their personal wellness.
From a business perspective, of course it doesn’t make too much sense to have enormous offices that aren’t being utilised, but any potential financial benefit from physical space closure was the last point of consideration on our list when taking this decision.
We wanted to offer our staff an environment where they could thrive, and for us that meant digital first. But we still like to see each other physically from time to time too – summer parties across the business just happened and I hear that the most recent one in Malta was quite the event. And that is why the term ‘digital first’ is so key, as it is ‘digital first’, not ‘digital only’. And we continue to look to create in-person experiences, in order for our employees to have those needed interactions.
With this set-up, we do need to double down on our communication to ensure that staff not only feel connected to the business, but to ensure we’re still building a great culture as well.
On the recruitment side, opening ourselves up to anyone in an entire country, rather than just the city in which the office is based, has been transformational.
And being remote obviously means constant personal internet usage by our employees, so we pay a monthly allowance to cover that too. This is quite the financial investment, across a year, but we feel it shows our employees that we are thinking of the things that make that small difference to their lives. And that builds trust and mutual respect.
iGN: How does internal communication work at Play’n GO?
JT: We’re working hard and bringing in new tools and initiatives constantly to keep our staff engaged and connected to the business. ‘All hands’ meetings are coming to the fore now – no mean feat to organise when you have 750 staff spread out all over the world, from Las Vegas to Manila.
I don’t think you can communicate too much in a digital-first environment, especially as it’s really the choice of the employee whether to engage with communications from the business or not. So our internal comms team has been very active indeed, and has made good use of our own video studio, based in Sweden, to make sure the leaders in our business can be seen, as well as heard, as often as possible.
iGN: Will any job roles be lost because of the decision to move to remote working?
JT: No. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re at our highest ever headcount now and we have at least 30 open roles too.
One of the secrets of our success, as I see it, is that the wider leadership group is very attuned to market realities and the macro-economic picture globally. Play’n GO is in a very healthy place as a business because of that long-term view.
The team have worked very hard to ensure the business is as efficient as possible for many years which allows us to invest in new initiatives and headcount. While others in our space have found it difficult of late and have cut staff, we’ve grown our headcount in the past 12 months and will continue to grow, sustainably, alongside the business.
We have only just entered the US and there are interesting opportunities elsewhere that we’re exploring too, so it’s a very exciting time for Play’n GO.
James Trusler joined Play’n GO in November 2021, with more than 20 years of HR experience. In that time, he has held various senior positions within the gaming and entertainment sectors at companies including NBCUniversal and Sky Television, working in the UK, Europe and Australia.
Play’n GO has committed to closing all physical offices by October 2024 as the Swedish slots supplier switches to a fully remote operating model.
The firm’s London location shut down in late 2022, while the Budapest building shuttered in May of this year. The Manila office will be next and is scheduled to close its doors in October.
The company was able to pilot the initiative after rapidly growing its UK-based headcount during the Covid-19 pandemic, where the workforce effectively outgrew the office.
That trial was described as a “major success” by Play’n GO chief people officer James Trusler, who said the ability to hire staff away from office locations had been “transformational” for the group.
For example, Play’n GO has since recruited employees from all over the UK – including in Scotland and Wales – and is no longer reliant on the narrow pool of potential employees that live within commuter distance of London.
“On the face of it, the decision was very easy,” Trusler told iGaming NEXT. “Our colleagues weren’t coming into our offices in any significant numbers after they opened up again after the pandemic.
“This would have been a problem that needed addressing if we saw that productivity and engagement were down, but for Play’n GO specifically, the vast majority of our employees were absolutely thriving digitally.
“They really appreciated the benefits of digital-first experiences – saving time and money on commuting, being able to spend more time with their families, or being able to dedicate more time to their personal wellness.
“From a business perspective, it doesn’t make too much sense to have enormous offices that aren’t being utilised, but any potential financial benefit from physical space closure was the last point of consideration on our list when taking this decision,” he added.
While job losses traditionally follow office closures, Play’n GO’s pivot has had the opposite effect. The company is at a record headcount of 750, and is hiring for 30 open vacancies.
The supplier has also committed to paying employees a monthly allowance towards the cost of constant internet usage while working from home.
Play’n GO’s strategic decision comes against a backdrop where the future of remote work is under close consideration.
After being born out of necessity during the Covid-19 pandemic, commentators have started to question whether working from home is a sustainable operating model for the future.
Productivity, operating expense and employee wellness are all central factors of that debate, which most would agree has no right answer and at present is down to employer preference.
According to data from LinkedIn, more than a third of UK workers said they would quit their jobs if their employer demanded they return to the office full-time.
Elsewhere, the European Union has this week moved to strengthen the rights of remote workers after 30 EU lawmakers signed a non-binding agreement.
The charter, launched by the Future Workforce Alliance, would ultimately enable access to co-working spaces, prohibit the tracking of staff computers from home, and protect workers from having to send or respond to work emails outside of working hours.
I used to love nothing more than getting home from work and sitting down to binge a few episodes of the latest TV boxset. I was a certified television addict, and it was my way to relax.
That was in the good old days before the pandemic. We were all still running the rat race and commuting for miles every day. Despite the obvious drawbacks (cost, delays, a lack of personal space while standing uncomfortably close to complete strangers with poor personal hygiene), it did at least provide a valuable chance to unwind and decompress, both before and after work.
But now, after sitting at a computer screen for 10 hours a day while working from home, I can’t think of anything worse. I’m watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire at the moment (no spoilers please) and while it’s unarguably brilliant, I must admit it feels a bit like a chore.
I can feel my eyes turning square, my muscles wilting and my brain turning to mush.
This creates an inevitable daily clash with my partner, who is a teacher. When she gets home, I feel like one of those pathetic little puppies with separation issues, waiting eagerly and impatiently by the front door. At last, a real-life human being to talk to!
“I’ve got the office chair, the second monitor, the separate mouse and keyboard; so all of the gear and no idea, you could say. I can only imagine the daily struggle for those with nothing but a laptop.”
Teaching was one of the few professions that went pretty much back to normal post-pandemic, and she is understandably eager to relax when she gets home from a difficult day at work.
I, on the other hand, am full of energy and desperate to get out, having spent most of the day slumped forward in my home office – which I acknowledge I am very fortunate to have.
I’ve got the office chair, the second monitor, the separate mouse and keyboard; so all of the gear and no idea, you could say. I can only imagine the daily struggle for those with nothing but a laptop.
Our wrists, fingers and thumbs can’t be too far off evolving, what with the screen time most of us rack up on our iPhones, iPads and laptops these days (other brands are available).
I should clarify that this is not a cry for help. Many will say that I am simply doing it wrong, and they are probably right. Instead of sitting at a computer all day, I should get out and see the natural world in all its glory. I’ll confess I have fantasised about that more than once.
Imagine rearing billy goats on a green and grassy smallholding where the only thing to worry about each week is how many eggs your chickens are going to lay. There is a real romance to this vision, but in reality, there are also plenty of pitfalls. And most of them stem from loneliness.
Earlier this month, a survey of more than 900 farmers found that 94% of UK farmers under the age of 40 believe that poor mental health is the greatest hidden challenge of their industry.
Many longed for market day as it provided the chance to catch up with like-minded people amid the hustle and bustle of a cattle auction before a slap-up meal in the café or canteen. In iGaming, many of us must now wait for a trade show to come around before being able to do similar.
It would be difficult to find two industries that share fewer similarities than agriculture and iGaming. But when it comes to working from home and working alone, there are common challenges.
“Fresh air, exercise and regular breaks all help, but it would be too reductive to suggest they are the solution in and of themselves. Just look at our farmers, who I’m sure get plenty of all three.”
The concept of hybrid and remote working is still a work in progress, and in my opinion, there are solutions that must be found for the model to become a sustainable one.
Teams calls and video catch-ups are essential in this type of operating environment, but they do not replicate the social buzz or camaraderie of working in an office. In fact, they come nowhere near.
Am I more productive from home? Unquestionably, but that also comes at a cost. I am far more likely to start work an hour earlier or work through my lunch break, which means my productivity has probably increased tenfold, but then so has my risk of burnout.
Fresh air, exercise and regular breaks all help, but it would be too reductive to suggest they are the solution in and of themselves. Just look at our farmers, who I’m sure get plenty of all three.
For me personally, it also requires a huge amount of self-discipline and some brain rewiring to make time for those three essentials while working, which appears to have become the priority for me.
I am never going to be the person that wakes at 5am to down a flaxseed smoothie ahead of three hours in the gym before the working day even begins. Those that know me will attest to that. Besides, Pierre does enough of that for the whole of iGaming NEXT.
For better or for worse, I take my profession seriously, and a Friday lunchtime pint in the pub is a rite of passage for any self-respecting journalist. Going by yourself is obviously not an option, and beer-filled glasses don’t quite clink the same through Zoom.
Even so, I’d like to say cheers to everyone working from home. You are not alone.
Jake’s Journal is the third new column from the iGaming NEXT editorial team following the launch of both Conor’s Corner and Sonja’s Standpoint this year.
It has become impossible for companies to compete for talent in the iGaming industry if they do not offer a hybrid or remote working policy.
Those are the thoughts of Aspire Global CEO Tsachi Maimon, who was speaking on the CEO Roulette panel at iGaming NEXT Valletta 2022.
PressEnter CEO and session moderator Lahcene Merzoug posed several controversial questions during the panel, including this one: “Can you be competitive if you don’t offer a hybrid work system?”
“No, it would be impossible,” came the resounding response from Maimon. “That train has left the station.”
Hybrid and remote working structures are a lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many organisations had to pivot in a matter of days to working from home.
Aspire Global CEO Tscachi Maimon: “We need to see how to do it [remote working] better because we are not as efficient as before.”
While Maimon acknowledges that flexibility is essential for hiring top talent, he argues the policy is not without drawbacks, particularly in terms of efficiency and communication.
“We need to see how to do it better because I think we are not as efficient as before,” commented the CEO, who now leads Aspire as part of the NeoGames group.
“Now it is more cold, technical tasks, instead of engagement to see how we can do things better.
“We are still [doing the work] and ticking the boxes, but we are no longer exploring how to make it better or how to take things in a different direction.
“It can also mean employees deliver less commitment to the company, because they don’t see their manager physically with their eyes,” he added.
Skywind Group chairperson and CEO Hilary Stewart-Jones was also in attendance as a panellist and she disagreed with Maimon on that last point.
Skywind Group chairperson and CEO Hilary Stewart-Jones: “If you sent that Zoom invite, you expected someone at home to see it immediately and it was actually a harsher regime.”
She argued that there was sometimes more pressure on remote staff, because they were often expected to answer calls and emails 24/7 as the lines between work and homelife became increasingly blurred in the depths of the pandemic.
“I was slightly concerned about the exploitation of people working at home full time,” said Stewart-Jones.
“If you sent that Zoom invite, you expected someone at home to see it immediately and it was actually a harsher regime.
“Whereas when someone was in the office, they could take an hour for their lunchtime or enjoy a cup of coffee, but because they were actually there and being seen, they’re deemed to be “on”, whereas at home, they were just expected to pick up the phone for multiple calls and that burnt people out,” she argued.
Earlier this month, iGaming NEXT asked senior HR leaders whether the iGaming industry should explore further flexibility by embracing a four-day workweek.