BY: Benson Cezar
The Alzheimer’s Society is drawing criticism for its decision to partner with William Hill in a £2 million deal meant to promote gambling among patients. Critics call the partnership a “grave error of judgment” and urged the organization to make the right decision for the benefit of its members.
William Hill and the Alzheimer’s Society first announced they would partner for a charity project May last year. But after the companies released the terms of their agreement early this month, they’ve received a swath of criticism left, right and centre.
Harrietta Bowden-Jones, the head of the NHS national problem gambling clinic termed the partnership as ‘ludicrous’ noting dementia patients are vulnerable.
“The notion that a person suffering from this should be encouraged to gamble responsibly is ludicrous and from a safeguarding perspective of grave concern,” Bowden-Jones said in a statement.
“These patients are vulnerable and must be protected from any activity that takes financial advantage from them,” Jones added.
Carolyn Harris, an anti-gambling champion and Member of Parliament called the idea “dreadful” and an attempt to exploit the most vulnerable.
“This is an exploitation of the most vulnerable,” Harris told reporters. “Many will be seeking company, and to suggest that the bookies are where they will be welcomed and safe beggars belief.”
The £2 Million Deal
William Hill, through its foundation, had a successful five-year charity project in Africa from 2012 to 2017. After that, it worked with mental health charities for a while before partnering with the Alzheimer’s Society.
The two organization first announced they would partner to help better the lives of people with dementia. Then it turned into a sponsorship meant to accomplish the following:
- Help Dementia People Gamble Harm Free
William Hill would be the go-to place for people with dementia that want to play slots, bingo, blackjack, poker or bet on sports. The gambling business also promised to help dementia patients financially or with tools and resources they might need as a social responsibility.
What’s more, William Hill would ensure it protected dementia players who might have signs of problem gambling. The company has emphasized that it aims to eliminate problem gambling and is constantly looking for new ideas on how to solve the issue.
- Help Alzheimer’s Patients Lead Normal Lives
The Alzheimer’s Society says the primary reason for accepting William Hill’s offer is to help promote the idea that people with dementia deserve to do regular things. That means they should be allowed to travel, do their chores, watch work if they can and play casino games.
Unfortunately, not everyone believes the Alzheimer’s Society had patients in mind when closing the deal. Gambling writer Jacob McKenzie asserts that Stephen Hill, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Alzheimer’s Society, helped negotiate the agreement due to his cordial relationship with William Hill.
Smith, who has a decorated CV that includes working with Betfair, worked as a director at IG Group when the company spent £1.1 million on William Hill back in 2001.
- Staff Training
The Alzheimer’s Society says it plans to spend some of William Hill’s money to train its staff better on how to deal with patients. More importantly, it wants them to learn how to help it members gamble safely.
“People with dementia tell us they want to continue doing the things they enjoy and stay involved in their communities,” Alex Hyde-Smith, the organizations fundraising director, recently told the times.
“As a charity, we have a duty to respond by influencing the betting agenda through education and awareness,” Smith added while explaining the need for partnering with William Hill.
The Alzheimer’s Society has come under scrutiny for its deeds and misdeeds in the past. Last February, the company was in the news for harbouring a toxic work culture that regularly involves bullying between employees.
Worse, the company’s response to complaints from employees usually involves silencing them through non-disclosure agreements. Where the tactic fails, they make payouts to avoid going to court.
The society’s managerial issues start at the top according to a recent article by the Guardian. Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Hughes allegedly has an “explosive temper” and bully tendencies.
In one case that involved a former employee and the CEO, the Alzheimer’s Society had to pay £750000 to silence the employee. Luckily, it also pushed Hughes to step aside, but he won’t do so until in April.
An Unethical Bookie
William Hill has its problems with ethics as well. In 2018, the brand name bookmaker accepted £1.2 million of stolen money from a customer without ever raising an alarm to authorities.
The Gambling Commission eventually caught up with the bookie and ordered it to hand over the entire amount to the original owner. Additionally, it had to pay £5 million for allowing multiple problem gamblers to access their account.
William Hill has, of course, made tremendous efforts to erase that part of its legacy. For starters, it has since heightened its verification procedures to ensure people gamble legally acquired money.
It’s also partnered with several gambling therapy organizations to help prevent or rehabilitate problem gamblers. However, its PR efforts might not have an impact if people continue to react negatively to its partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society.
Should the Alzheimer’s Society give up money from William Hill? Or should the bookie offer money but discontinues its efforts to involve dementia patients in gambling? Logically, the latter would be the better option.
William Hill is an enormous brand that needs to safeguard its reputation. Encouraging a group of vulnerable senior citizens to spend their valuable time gambling is a sure way of tarnishing its name.
As a response, the company could donate the £2 million to Alzheimer’s Society and offer programs to support their members. However, the last thing it should do is to suggest that there’s anything as “dementia-friendly’ gambling.
On the flip side, the Alzheimer’s Society needs to take more responsibility as a charity organization. It can start by streamlining its management and doing what’s best for its members.