Entain, the parent company of partypoker, Ladbrokes, bwin, and more, is under fire in the United Kingdom over its initiative called The Players’ Panel. Safe gambling groups are accusing Entain from hiding its involvement in the group, which posts articles in which every day people talk about they enjoyment they get from gambling and how they do so responsibly.
The Players’ Panel was established at the beginning of this month to “give consumers a voice on the issues around betting and gambling in the UK.”
“It is a platform for them to speak out on issues such as the future of betting, freedom of choice, funding for sports and gaming trends. The views of the Players’ Panel are their own and they will be interacting with political decision-makers, stakeholders and the media to give the perspective of the day-to-day customer,” wrote Entain in a February 1 press release.
People who write posts for The Players’ Panel are unpaid and do so voluntarily. Basically, The Players’ Panel is a way for Entain to amplify happy gamblers’ voices, since the loudest voices are usually the negative ones.
Here’s the problem, though: for a while, Entain did not have its name on The Players’ Panel’s Facebook page. It is on The Players’ Panel website, whose URL is on the Facebook page. The Facebook page is categorized as a “community” page and features a quote from “Ken,” who says, “Some people go to the cinema or theatre or just have a couple of beers – and for me, it’s bingo and sports betting.”
The page has very few posts – the last one was on February 5 – had has literally only one follower.
Even so, many were not happy that Entain did not disclose its involvement originally.
Lord Foster of Bath, chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform, told The Guardian, “Of course there are people who gamble without experiencing harm. But if the gambling industry wants to promote examples of such people to try to avoid further curbs on their businesses, they should be more upfront that it’s an industry campaign.”
He added, “the industry would do well to operate in a transparent and cautious manner.”
Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of the betting reform campaign group Clean Up Gambling, was less generous in his assessment, saying, “This is reminiscent of astroturfing campaigns that attempt to convey an image of a sector that’s quite distinct from the reality.”
Political consulting firm CT Group, which helped Entain setup The Players’ Panel, had previously been accused of astroturfing in an investigation by The Guardian. Staffers created Facebook pages for supposed independent news outlets, filling them with articles that hype their clients.
The Players’ Panel now has four members. That number used to be five, but in another issue stemming from a failure in vetting, one member’s Facebook page contained racist and homophobic slurs.