Gambling Commission maintains reduction of risk stance on gaming machines and social responsibility

The Gambling Commission has today published its advice to support the Government with its review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures (that can be downloaded below, together with the accompanying letter sent to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on 28 February 2018).

In what is a comprehensive package of measures that, taken together, the Commission considers will “form a coherent strategy for tackling harm in relation to machine play”, the principal recommendations are that:

  • FOBT slots stakes should be limited to £2,
  • the stake limit for FOBT non-slot games (that include roulette) should be set at or below £30 if it is to have a significant effect on the potential for players to lose large amounts of money in a short space of time,
  • the facility for machines to allow different categories of games to be played in a single session should be banned,
  • there is a strong case to make tracked play mandatory across machines categories B1, B2 and B3,
  • similar kinds of protections, such as player limits, that are in place on FOBTs should be extended to category B1 and B3 machines, and
  • steps should be taken to make limit-setting more effective, for example ending sessions when consumers reach time and money limits.

In terms of the land-based casino sector, the Commission:

  • does not support increasing machine allocations in the absence of additional measures to manage the risk of gambling-related harm effectively (such as extending time and money limits from B2 machines to B1 machines, strengthening those controls and participating in a trial of machine play tracking),
  • does not support the National Casino Forum (“NCF”) proposal for higher stake and prize gaming machines (Category B1H) for ten high-end casinos in the Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea boroughs, on the basis that “there would need to be more evidence on the controls that could be put in place to provide these machines in a socially responsible manner and in a way that would substantially restrict their availability”,
  • would not support the NCF proposal to increase the cash insertion limit into a B1 machine from £20 to £50 unless the NCF provides evidence as to how operators would manage the risks that it generates,
  • proposes a change to regulations so that machine entitlements can only be calculated on the basis of multi-player live tables,
  • does not support a 500 machine cap in 2005 Act Large Casinos, suggesting that the level of any new cap would need to be based on a proper rationale, and
  • does not support the NCF’s proposal that online gaming should be made available for use on casino premises (for example, with tablets made available on premises that link to the operator’s online gaming content) because it considers this would “be a means of effectively introducing unlimited stake and prize ‘Category A’ gaming machines, which should be restricted to a ‘Regional Casino’ under the 2005 Act”. 

In terms of further social responsibility measures applicable to online gambling, although noting that it is “starting to see signs that online operators are beginning to take their responsibilities as seriously as we expect, and that they are making this an integral part of their business culture”, the Commission states that it will consult on:

  • amending the LCCP to require age verification to be completed on all consumers before they can deposit money and gamble, and for play-for-free games to be available only after age verification is completed,
  • introducing a CDD requirement that operators have more information about their customers at an earlier stage (including a requirement for players to be verified before they are allowed to gamble) and setting limits on players’ spending that could only be increased once operators have further verified information about the player (for example via “an affordability check”)

and that it will undertake further work on:

  • assessing the effectiveness of current consumer protections,
  • reviewing game and product characteristics to identify whether particular features pose greater risk of harm than others,
  • reviewing its requirements on the protection of customer funds (including whether there are sufficient protections around dormant accounts),
  • considering whether gambling on credit should continue to be permitted, and
  • considering whether it needs to make changes to LCCP in order to ensure that consumers can withdraw funds more easily.

The Commission also states that:

  • it will continue to work closely with the Advertising Standards Authority to enforce advertising standards, particularly when there is a risk of consumers being misled, and
  • engagement is to continue with the main social media platforms to explore how vulnerable people can limit their exposure to gambling advertising online.

Other recommendations by the Commission include:

  • not increasing in stake for category B3 machines (of the type made available in bingo clubs, AGCs and LBOs) as “that would be at odds with the objectives of this review”,
  • not permitting direct debit card payment methods for gaming machines until there has been sufficient research into the adequacy of any harm mitigation measures,
  • the need for licensing authorities to take action where staffing needs are not effectively identified in the Local Risk Assessments that land-based gambling operators should make for all of their premises,
  • consideration of a statutory levy if the gambling industry fails to implement improvements in funding the present voluntary arrangements for problem gambling research, education and treatment, and
  • not considering increasing automatic entitlements to category C machines in pub premises until the sector can demonstrate that the controls it has in place are sufficient.

Gambling Commission Interim Chief Executive Neil McArthur is quoted as saying: “We’ve put consumers at the heart of our advice – advice which is based on the best available evidence and is focussed on reducing the risk of gambling-related harm. In our judgement, a stake cut for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals alone doesn’t go far enough to protect vulnerable people. That is why we have recommended a stake cut plus a comprehensive package of other measures to protect consumers. We have proposed actions that will tackle both the risk of harm and provide solutions that are sustainable in the longer term.”

In support of its advice, the Commission has also published:

UPDATE: Following publication by the Gambling Commission of its advice, the Association of British Bookmakers (“ABB”) has commented as follows in relation to the FOBT recommendations:

“The ABB is now considering the extensive and wide-ranging advice and recommendations made by the Gambling Commission. We fully understand that there is public concern and that there will be a stake cut to reduce the levels of losses on machines in betting shops. The Commission has also identified a number of responsible gambling measures that will benefit those experiencing problems with their gambling. The final decision is still to be taken and we await the outcome of the consultation.  In the interim, we remain committed to introducing further measures to address problem gambling and will continue to work with all interested parties.”