Gambling and gambling-related issues feature in Online Harms White Paper

The UK Government has today published its “Online Harms White Paper” (a copy of which – together with an Executive Summary – can be downloaded below) setting out its plans for “a world-leading package of online safety measures that also supports innovation and a thriving digital economy” that “will make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children and other vulnerable groups”.

Those in the gambling industry may be interested to note that the White Paper contains the following directly relevant references to gambling and gambling-related issues:

Page 27 (in the context of “Emerging challenge: designed addiction – Future action”):

DCMS is continuing to work with the Gambling Commission and the industry on player protections in the online sector. In May 2018, we published the response to the Consultation on Proposals for Changes to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures, which set out a clear plan to strengthen player protections.

Since then, a number of changes have been made to make gambling fairer and safer, including tightening advertising rules and launching GAMSTOP, the online self-exclusion scheme. Additionally, from May, the Gambling Commission will bring in changes that mean that age and identity must be verified before consumers can deposit money and gamble, and will require age verification before customers can access free-to-play demo games.

Pages 28 & 29 (in the context of “Online advertising”):

The Competition and Markets Authority is considering further work on digital advertising, although this is dependent on the outcome of EU exit negotiations.

In November 2018 the Advertising Standards Authority published its strategy More Impact Online, which aims to put the protection of consumers online at the heart of its work over the next five years, and makes commitments to explore, for example, the use of machine learning and AI to improve regulation.

As announced in the DCMS Secretary of State’s immediate response to the Cairncross Review, DCMS will conduct a review of how online advertising is regulated in the UK.

Pages 32 & 33 (in the context of “shortcomings of the current regulatory landscape”):

Currently there is a range of UK regulations aimed at specific online harms or services in scope of the White Paper, but this creates a fragmented regulatory environment whichis insufficient to meet the full breadth of the challenges we face. The current regulatory framework includes:

  • GDPR and the Data Protection Act enforced by the ICO. This includes collection and use of personal data, including when online. The GDPR also has extraterritorial scope and can be enforced against companies outside the UK who offer services to UK users.
  • The Gambling Commission’s licensing and regulation of online gambling.61 DCMS has been working with the Commission to tighten advertising rules on gambling and launched GAMSTOP, the online self-exclusion scheme. Additional age- verification requirements are expected to come take effect in from May this year.
  • The Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) enforcement of consumer protection law online.
    • Businesses risk breaching consumer protection law where their online behaviour misleads consumers or treats them unfairly. The CMA has undertaken a range of recent enforcement activity examining potentially unfair or misleading online behaviour, including:
      • Online gambling – the CMA worked with the Gambling Commission to sanction unfair online ‘bonus’ promotions by major gambling firms. The CMA was concerned that players’ money could effectively be trapped under the terms of these promotions, or that they could be caught out by unclear or imbalanced promotion rules. Changes were agreed with a number of firms, including William Hill and Ladbrokes.

The Online Harms consultation aims to gather views on various aspects of the government’s plans for regulation and tackling online harms, including:

  • the online services in scope of the regulatory framework,
  • options for appointing an independent regulatory body to implement, oversee and enforce the new regulatory framework,
  • the enforcement powers of an independent regulatory body,
  • potential redress mechanisms for online users and
  • measures to ensure regulation is targeted and proportionate for industry.

The consultation closes at 23.59 on 1 July 2019. A list of 18 questions appears in Annex A on pages 97 & 98 of the White Paper. The government is particularly encouraging responses from “organisations, companies and others with relevant views, insights or evidence”.

You can respond online:


Download article PDF: Online Harms White Paper 09.04.19