Clear flagposts towards future Gambling Commission direction of travel

We reported yesterday on two recent Gambling Commission website postings, including that dated 18 January 2020, entitled “Commission sets industry tough challenges to accelerate progress to raise standards and reduce gambling harm”.

We chose to entitle our report on the same issue: “UK gambling industry addresses regulator’s challenge with working groups for game design, ad-tech and VIP incentivisation”. Our reason for so doing was that the Gambling Commission issued this particular challenge to industry in October 2019. It seems to us more appropriate to headline the fact that the industry has now risen to that challenge by setting up three working parties to address each of those matters.

It is also worthy of note that, when issuing the challenge in his Breakfast Briefing speech on 2 October 2019, the Commission’s Chief Executive, Neil McArthur expressly acknowledged that an offer had at that time already been received from a major operator to lead the development of a code of conduct in relation to the treatment of VIPs and associated inducements to gamble.

The Commission’s website posting of 18 January 2020 also includes reference to a recent Advice on actions to reduce online harms it has received from the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling. That Advice (which can be downloaded below) contains a recommendation that the Commission has already implemented, i.e. banning the use of credit cards for online gambling (with effect from 14 April 2020). We believe that the the following table summarising the ABSG’s main recommendations can safely be regarded as identifying other steps that the Commission will be likely to adopt in the near future.

Summary of key ABSG recommendations

The Gambling Commission should consider .

Transparency and evaluation

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Making operator assurance statements public documents – with formal written feedback from the Gambling Commission to operators.

page1image2147219888Creating a data repository.

Updating the evaluation protocol – with greater focus on resources and co-ordination to ensure more widespread evaluation of what works.

Detection of harms

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page1image2146071568Requiring operators to be more transparent about the approaches used to detect harm in their customer base.
page1image2146132320Increasing focus and resources on establishing what is best practice in the use of data to detect harm.
page1image2146122208Mandating minimum standards based on this best practice.

Effective interventions

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Using the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy to provide leadership and co-ordination for the piloting and evaluation of a wider range of strong harm prevention interventions.

Including measures in this piloting and evaluation which do not only rely on the individual experiencing harm being responsible for restricting their own gambling.
page1image2146167984Creating mechanisms to work with experts by experience to co- create effective harm prevention activities.

Using evaluation findings, when available, to inform improvements to the online multi-operator self-exclusion scheme – and consider how addition support options can be made available to those who self-exclude.

Considering how the Gambling Commission can be assured that operators processes and interactions are sufficiently robust in relation to customers returning from self-exclusion.

page1image2147277856Expanding partnership work with the financial services sector.

Explore with Government the potential to obtain IP blocking powers to further disrupt illegal online gambling.

Game design and product characteristics

Improving understanding on product and game characteristics and their links to harm.

Banning the use of credit cards for online gambling, and monitor impact carefully to understand and mitigate unintended consequences.

page2image2188188368Exploring how more effective and useful information could be provided to consumers on products and risks.
page2image2185771472Banning reverse withdrawals.

Using further strong enforcement, and measures to increase operators’ duty of care for their consumers, to change the culture of the industry towards greater responsibility for making gambling safer.

Stake, prize and speed of play limits

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page2image2185789488Planning how a regime of stake, prize and speed of play limits could be implemented for online gambling.
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Unless significant progress is made by operators on player protection, working with government to introduce online limits on stakes, prizes and speed of play.

Marketing and advertising

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Exploring the potential of technological solutions to reduce exposure for children and vulnerable people – including the use of ad-tech to proactively restrict exposure

Advocating a precautionary approach – there is sufficient evidence to justify this, particularly in relation to children and people who are vulnerable to harms.

In addition, within its Advice on the Impact of online platforms on gambling-related harm (which can also be downloaded below), the Digital Advisory Panel – established by the Commission a year ago to advise on ways to manage harms posed by online gambling platforms – has made the following key recommendations, one of which (i.e. that described below as “single customer view”) has already been flagged up by the Commission in its website posting of 18 January 2020 as a new initiative on which “more details will be announced in the coming weeks”:

Summary of key Digital Advisory Panel recommendations

The Gambling Commission should consider …

Habit Forming Apps

Regulating the use of software development techniques for mobile apps and web-based gambling sites that promote addictive and compulsive usage. This might include increasing the ‘friction’ of using this software but will certainly involve consultation with operators and academics.

Single Customer View

Requiring the large operators to form an arms-length joint venture that will provide a service that will consolidate a single customer view for all online gambling activity, so improved interventions are possible for both problem gamblers and gamblers at-risk. In parallel, the GC should continue to drive the agenda for research into markers of harm and specific gambling triggers so that this knowledge can be built into this service in the future.

Online Advertising

page1image2186444784Requiring the operators to report annually on the progress they have made in directing their online advertising, free bets and bonuses away from problem and at-risk gamblers, as well as children.

Gambling Commission operations

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Avoiding the temptation to build online or digital technologies to monitor the activities of the operators or gamblers. Instead, we recommend that the GC continue to develop its understanding of the technologies being used by the operators to allow the creation of licence and regulations that can keep in step with technological advance.

Considering the appointment of commissioners with digital awareness and background that are comfortable with the topics referred to in this paper.

In our view, with the forthcoming Government review of the Gambling Act 2005 in clear sight, both of these sets of recommendations from the ABSG and its Digital Advisory Panel can be regarded as indicating clear flagposts towards the Gambling Commission’s future direction of travel.

Neil McArthur has commented on both sets of advice as follows:

We regulate an industry which is innovative and evolving quickly in response to changes in technology and consumer behaviour and our work with both expert advice groups will guide and influence our regulatory approach. The advice from our expert groups reinforces our view that small and gradual improvements by the industry are simply not enough to keep pace with the emerging risks and opportunities presented by online gambling.  Only a bold and innovative approach will allow us to achieve the reduction in the numbers of people experiencing or at risk from gambling harm and this is why, following both sets of advice, we have set tough challenges to the industry which we must see progress on by Spring 2020.

Andy Payne, Chair of the Digital Advisory Panel, is quoted as saying:

I am delighted and honoured to be working with the Commission in this capacity. The evolution seen across the gambling industry, specifically online gambling, over the last decade has been significant and we hope the collective intel and experience of the panel will support the Commission’s work in reducing gambling harm and ensuring consumers remain protected.

Dr Anna Van Der Gaag, Chair of Advisory Board for Safer Gambling has said:

We welcome the Commission’s publication of our advice. We identified significant gaps and weaknesses in the current system which, unless addressed, will result in continuing harms from gambling activity and give rise to further public concern. Involving people with lived experience is an essential part of this, along with more robust requirements of operators to be much more proactive and transparent in demonstrating how they are addressing harms from online activity in particular.

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