In the face of considerably more demanding regulatory requirements and an increasingly challenging trading environment, gambling operators holding UK operating licences considering the surrender of their licence(s) should take very careful note of the Commission’s following reminder of its expectations to licensees leaving the British market:
One of the principles of our regulation is that gambling should be fair and open. Through our work we aim to maintain public confidence in the gambling industry. Among other things, we expect licence holders to:
- Conduct their business with integrity
- Maintain adequate financial resources
- Have due regard to the interests of consumers and treat them fairly
We are aware that, from time to time, gambling businesses leave the British market. This may be for a variety of reasons, ranging from insolvency to personal retirement. We are aware that businesses have been taking a variety of approaches to dealing with their consumers in these situations, and we want to make our expectations clear.
Advice to gambling businesses
This advice applies both to licensed gambling businesses in the high street and online, and to those individuals holding personal management licences. Even where a business becomes insolvent, we still may act against both the operating licensee and any relevant personal management licensees if there have been failings. We will also consider a licensee’s conduct in any future licence application they make. If we consider there has been wrongdoing, such as fraud or illegal trading, we can refer this to the relevant enforcement agency.
We expect all gambling businesses to have plans in place and take steps to make sure that consumers are not unnecessarily disadvantaged if they do have to close for whatever reason. The best outcome for consumers will depend on the specific circumstances. If a business is insolvent (unable to pay its debts) then it cannot legally carry on trading.
On an ongoing basis, we expect businesses to do the following:
- Be aware of their liabilities and check they can cover these
- Warn consumers placing long-term bets that their stakes and winnings are not secured in the event of insolvency
- Give consumers information about the level of funds protection in place. This is a requirement of our licence conditions
If the business decides to close, we expect them to do the following:
- Provide clear and concise information to consumers
- Show they are in control of the situation by keeping consumers updated and giving information on any potential routes for redress. Communication should include all available means including direct contact and wider messages on social media.
- Discharge all their liabilities to their consumers whenever possible
We give an example of how this could work in practice below.
Example of practical steps
Bookmaker A contacts us to say it is planning to close its business for consumers in Great Britain because it is focusing its attention on other markets instead. Rather than simply announcing its intention to close, it comes to us with a considered plan of how it will do this.
- Acknowledges its responsibility to manage an orderly closure
- Sets a firm date for closure
- Defines the extent of the closure and whether it covers all the activities under its licence or just a specific brand or domain it trades under
- Is clear about when it will stop accepting bets from consumers
- Has a clear and fair policy on what it will do with unsettled ‘ante-post’ bets. Note that for instances of insolvency, we will expect the gambling business to have considered what outcome is best for the majority of consumers
- Includes a full plan of how it will communicate with its consumers: its main messages, FAQs, and where it will publish these
- It describes how it will handle the likely demand from consumers once its closure has been announced. It also says how it will reach consumers that do not get in touch themselves
- Says how, and by when, it will return consumers’ money in their accounts. It also says what it will do with funds that are unclaimed or that it cannot return
- Includes a realistic estimate of the resource it will need to manage the closure, how long this will be in place, and a commitment to provide this
Advice to consumers
Consumers should make sure they are familiar with a gambling business’s key terms and conditions when they register with them or gamble in premises. These terms must be readily available.
They can also check the level of protection for their money that the business has in place. This must be stated in the business’s terms and conditions. Money staked or deposited with a gambling business is not protected by the government in the way that personal bank accounts are. There is more information about the levels of protection available.
If a gambling business decides to close or exit the market, we cannot prevent them from doing so.
We will not be arbitrating on any disputes that might arise between a licensee and its consumers. In some situations, the business’s alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider may be able to help. Consumers can contact the ADR provider and it will tell them if it is able to adjudicate on their dispute. In all situations, consumers retain the right to pursue civil legal action through the courts if they are unhappy with the action taken by a gambling business.
The Commission’s announcement to the above effect can be downloaded below.