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GVC Holdings Chief: 'I'm Not a Coward. I'll Meet Any Time, Any Place'

Written by:
Alejandro Botticelli
Published on:
Nov/07/2019

GVC Holdings CEO Kenny Alexander has come out swinging against parliament members accusing him of cowardice for failing to appear before them in September.

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Alexander acknowledges the mistakes that have been made in the past with his company, parent to Coral and Ladbrokes among others, but says the industry is working hard to help those suffering harm from gambling.

"I think it's probably the most important thing the industry is facing at the moment," he says at the company's London offices in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral.

"Problem gamblers are not good for this industry for a whole host of reasons and if we are not seen as being responsible then the business is not going to be sustainable. That is a fact.

"I think it is at the core of what GVC does, it's probably the number one strategic objective to get this right and I think it's probably the same in other gambling companies. I don't think we are any different from Hills, or Flutter or 365. It's the single biggest challenge but it's also the single biggest opportunity.

“I think we are getting it right despite all the headlines – I think we are doing a lot of good stuff. But the bottom line is the industry is under enormous scrutiny and it is only going to get worse if we don’t absolutely nail it.”.

Despite those efforts, GVC was fined £5.9m back in July for a customer's £98,000 loss, though this was more the result of inheriting the Coral and Ladbrokes brands.

The acquired companies were accused of not protecting vulnerable customers and for failings in their anti-money laundering measures.

In one instance, a Ladbrokes customer had 460 attempted deposits into their gambling account declined. However, they were still able to lose £98,000 over two and a half years after begging the company to stop sending promotions.

The Gambling Commission said the problems occurred between November 2014 and October 2017, prior to the time GVC Holdings bought Ladbrokes Coral in March 2018.

Alexander, 50, has built GVC into an industry powerhouse since taking charge in 2007, mostly through acquisitions that included his former employer Sportingbet. 

His company has been at the forefront of contributing to the research for treatment of problem gamblers, even working in conjunction with the Harvard Medical School's Division on Addiction. GVC has also donated many of its football sponsorships to the charity GambleAware.

"I think we have led the charge in some of these things but they are in collaboration with the rest of the industry," Alexander says. "We've invested a lot of money into the Harvard research programme, we've invested in education and also a lot of this stuff is being done in the engine room of the business – finding markers of harm.

"The way we can recognise these things is a lot more sophisticated than we have ever been able to do before, although I would have to say I suspect that all the other big operators are as sophisticated as us.

"The fact is the industry has made massive strides in the last 18 months to two years around problem gambling. The problem is the headlines still remain bad and I find that a big frustration, the report this week for example."

The report in question was published by the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group.  Its recommendations of wiped out millions of pounds from gambling stocks, including GVC.

It also contained personal criticism of Alexander, the RacingPost noted.

The report specifically named Alexander and said the APPG was "appalled" at his "cowardly behaviour".

"I'll just tackle that head on," Alexander says. "They called me a coward. I can tell you right now, I am not a coward, anybody who knows me will tell you I am not a coward. I didn't go to that event because I had a board meeting in the Isle of Man and there is no way I could get out of it.

"I thought it was going to be a bearpit, which I am fine with. I am quite happy to go in there and take the punches and I will take them. I am the CEO of the company and I will take them. I am not sending in some of my lieutenants to take them.

"If they want to speak to me I will meet them any place, anywhere, any time."

- Alejandro Botticelli, Gambling911.com

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