UK gambling industry addresses regulator’s challenge with working groups for game design, ad-tech and VIP incentivisation

The UK Gambling Commission has published two consecutive website postings, each focused on the raising of licensees’ standards, namely:

  1. Commission sets industry tough challenges to accelerate progress to raise standards and reduce gambling harm and
  2. Games warning for online operators

The industry code for responsible product and game design working group

Following on from a call for action made by Gambling Commission Chief Executive, Neil McArthur, in October 2019, the Commission has confirmed in the first posting listed above that two of the world’s leading gambling software companies, SG Gaming and Playtech, have committed to leading work on producing an effective Industry Code for Product Design, intended to result in safer products being made available by UK licensed B2C operators. The industry code for responsible product and game design working group will set out how the gambling industry can produce safer products in the future, the techniques to use when designing apps, online games and gaming machine products, the risks associated with each product and how they can be mitigated, and a clear explanation of what is not acceptable.

Ahead of production of that code, in the second posting listed above, the Commission has reminded online gambling operators to check that their games meet transparency and safety standards expected by the Gambling Commission. It states:

The reminder follows discovery that six operators were offering products providing ‘feature buy-in’ facilities on slots style games. This facility gave consumers the option of staking significant amounts of money to access the bonus feature without playing the initial stages of the game. One game was charging more than £3,000 to enter the bonus feature.

The Commission’s remote gambling and software technical standards contain the following requirements:

  • RTS requirement 3A: An explanation of the applicable rules must be easily available to the customer before they commit to gamble. The content including artwork and text must be accurate, and sufficient to explain all of the applicable rules and how to participate. All reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that the content is understandable.
  • RTS requirement 14A: Gambling products must not actively encourage customers to chase their losses, increase their stake or increase the amount they have decided to gamble, or continue to gamble after they have indicated that they wish to stop.

All six operators contacted regarding use of the ‘feature buy in’ element have now removed it from their sites.

The Advertising Technology working group and the incentivisation of high value customers working group

As confirmed in the first posting listed above, in addition to the group addressing responsible product design, other working groups led by senior industry leaders will tackle two other “opportunities” for improvement identified by McArthur last October, i.e. high value customer incentives and advertising online:

  • Sky Betting and Gaming are overseeing an Advertising Technology working group, intended to achieve safer advertising online. The background cited by the Commission is an interim report published by GambleAware in July 2019, showing that children, young people and vulnerable adults reported they were being exposed to significant levels of online gambling adverts – including via social media. In its new website posting, the Commission describes the Advertising Technology challenge as being to “explore and quickly accelerate opportunities to reduce the amount of advertising seen by children, young people and vulnerable adults”.
  • GVC are leading an incentivisation of high value customers working group that is addressing issues around the use of VIP inducements to gamble. This group is intended to help ensure that bonuses, hospitality and gifts (in particular around VIP programmes) are offered in a manner which is consistent with the licensing objectives to make gambling fairer, safer and crimefree. In this respect, the Commission states that its casework has “found evidence that the approach of some licensees has exacerbated at-risk behaviour and this new group will identify how existing rules can be strengthened”.

The Gambling Commission has confirmed that all three working groups mentioned above will be working closely with the Betting and Gaming Council. It concludes that “this approach utilises the skills and resources of the industry but ensures the Commission retains control of outputs – and consequently the best progress for British consumers”.

The Commission’s Chief Executive, Neil McArthur has said:

Consumer behaviour and technology are changing so quickly that only a bold and innovative approach will allow us to achieve a reduction in the numbers of people experiencing, or at risk from, gambling related harm. I’ve been encouraged by the willingness of so many operators to work with us on these challenges. We’ve set demanding timetable for progress because we cannot proceed at the speed of the slowest. If rapid progress is not made then we will have to look at other options, as making gambling safer for consumers is paramount.

In addition, referring to an additional initiative, the Commission has gone on to say:

The Gambling Commission announced in October that it would launch an industry-wide challenge to find a technology solution to creating a single customer view which would protect gamblers who gamble with more than one company. The Commission will be working with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and a kick-off event will be taking place in Birmingham in February for industry and technology providers. More details on this initiative will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Gambling Commission recently received independent advice on tackling online harms from both the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (“ABSG”) and its Digital Advisory Panel.

In that respect, in addition to each of the Commission’s above-mentioned postings, you can download below:

  • the ABSG’s Advice to the Gambling Commission on actions to reduce online harms and
  • the Digital Advisory Panel’s Advice on the impact of online platforms on gambling-related harm.

UPDATE:

  1. David Clifton will be asking Brigid Simmonds, Chairman of the BGC, about the three working groups (and more) at the KnowNow Limited Social Responsibility for Gambling Operators conference in London on Wednesday 22 January 2020.
  2. We have now studied the above-mentioned advices on tackling online harms that each of the ABSG and its Digital Advisory Panel has provided to the Gambling Commission. You can read our comments on the recommendations made in each advice in our subsequent report entitled “Clear flag posts towards future Gambling Commission direction of travel”.