The UK’s gambling regulator will on Monday call on the industry to stamp out sexism, warning that women attending an annual conference taking place this week are “expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits”.
Gambling Commission chief executive Sarah Harrison will warn that the regulator could boycott the ICE Totally Gaming event, the world’s largest gambling industryconference, unless attitudes change. Past guests at the conference have said companies hosting stands frequently use “scantily clad” women to attract people to their product displays.
Harrison’s warning comes amid fierce debate about the treatment of women employed to provide hospitality at events, following revelations about the men-only Presidents Club dinner, where female staff were allegedly groped and sexually harassed.
Formula 1 last week took the decision to stop using “grid girls” – models who display sponsor and driver names at Grand Prix – while darts events have scrapped so-called “walk-on girls” to escort players to the oche.
Harrison will say that last year’s ICE event inspired her to urge senior figures from the world of gambling to follow suit by addressing a “significant stain on the industry’s reputation”. “This is an industry where we have a number of talented, powerful and successful women,” she will tell the International Casino Conference, an event held on the eve of the ICE event.
“Yet from walking around the exhibition you wouldn’t know this. Instead you saw men representing their companies wearing expensive tailored suits whilst their female colleagues were expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits. I say bring this to an end now.”
“And to go further, any future participation by the Gambling Commission in events like this will depend on there being change,” Harrison will add.
Previous guests at the ICE conference, held at the ExCel conference centre in London’s Docklands, told the Guardian that event was renowned for the use of underdressed women, including Playboy models, to advertise gambling products.
“A lot of the promotional activity involves attractive young ladies, often not wearing that much,” said one previous delegate. “It’s not all skin, but there’s quite a lot on show typically. Girls in body paint and not much else. One company had a Playboy-themed slot machine on display and they brought along Playboy centrefolds.
“You had paunchy slot machine buyers going up to get their pictures taken with them. It was a bit pathetic, but I’ve never seen any predatory behaviour like the Presidents Club.”
As the industry prepared for the event, the European Casino Association (ECA) and Clarion Gaming, which organises the ICE conference, urged companies planning to exhibit to be aware of potential allegations of sexism.
“In the spirit of the 21st century, when both women and men play strategic and decision-making roles in businesses, we encourage all exhibitors to mindfully represent support staff promoting their products at the show in a non-offensive and non-stereotyping way,” they said in an open letter.
“For both organisations, it is clear that presenting a modern and diverse gaming industry should be at the heart of the show. For this to be successful and ensure that all participants feel equally welcome, the respectful representation of genders is crucial,” the letter added.
ECA chairman Per Jaldung said: “It is imperative that our industry presents its positive image … Our industry is modern and inclusive, and we call on exhibitors to showcase the great products and services they offer in a respectful manner that does not rely on outdated stereotypes.”
Ewa Bakun, head of content strategy at Clarion Gaming, said: “We have been exerting a soft pressure on our exhibitors and educating the ICE audience on the ways the industry can evolve to create a more inclusive culture and improve gender diversity across all organisational levels.”
In Harrison’s speech on Monday, she will point to the fact that the UK’s highest paid chief executive is Denise Coates of gambling company Bet365, who paid herself £217m last year. And she will say that a push for greater diversity is “not about political correctness” but will help businesses respond better to customers’ needs.