How serious is high-roller problem gambling?

David Clifton moderated a panel session at yesterday’s Social Responsibility for Gambling Operators conference that posed the question “How serious is high-roller problem gambling?”

David and his panel members – (shown above left to right) David Clifton, Daniel Reilly (Responsible Gambling Officer at GamCare), Balthazar Fabricius (CEO of Fitzdares), Roger Marris (CEO of the Ritz Hotel Casino), and Dan Waugh (Director of Regulus Partners) – debated that question, with input from audience members. The starting point was the definition of “high-rollers”, bearing in mind that the definition of that phrase and “VIP” and “high-value” customers will vary from operator to operator, depending on the nature of each operator’s business.

The Gambling Commission’s February 2015 Strengthening Social Responsibility document set out the then forthcoming changes to the LCCP, including a change to social responsibility code provision 3.4.1 (dealing with customer interaction), which has required as follows in relation to VIP customers since May 2015:

Licensees must put into effect policies and procedures for customer interaction where they have concerns that a customer’s behaviour may indicate problem gambling. The policies must include ….. (e) specific provision for making use of all relevant sources of information to ensure effective decision making, and to guide and deliver effective customer interactions, including in particular ….. (ii) specific provision in relation to customers designated by the licensee as ‘high value’, ‘VIP’ or equivalent.

The Commission’s rationale for this change was that it had “found across a range of operators that staff involved in managing customers that have been assigned ‘VIP’ or ‘high value’ status have tended to be insulated from the social responsibility obligations and practices applying elsewhere in the business. This has led in some circumstances to regulatory failings where operators have been reluctant to interact with commercially valuable customers on social responsibility grounds, or for the prevention of crime (for fear of losing their custom to competitors)”.

On the plus side, socially responsible operators’ customer services/relations staff will often hold a great deal of information about their VIP customers that can readily be used by them for harm minimisation purposes, including identification of problem gamblers or those at risk of becoming problem gamblers. However, it is understood that the Gambling Commission has concerns that such staff members can sometimes get too close to VIP customers, so that a danger exists that their objectivity may disappear.

As reported elsewhere on our website, as recently as November 2017, Gala Interactive (Gibraltar) Limited was required to pay a total of £2.3 million for failing to effectively interact with two high-spending “VIP” customers who were displaying problem gambling behaviour whilst playing online games and, in the process, gambling away approximately £1.3 million of stolen money. It seems inevitable from the Gambling Commission’s 4 January 2018 letter to all online casino operators that similar failings are likely to exist elsewhere, in the remote gambling sector in particular.

Any operator requiring expert advice in this (and associated AML) KYC respect is invited to contact us.

UPDATE: We report here on a regulatory settlement concluded in October 2018, under which the Rank Group PLC (t/a Grosvenor Casinos and online at incurred a £500,000 penalty for failing to follow Gambling Commission rules that protect problem gamblers in that it:

  • failed to interact with a very high net value customer who lived overseas and who was displaying problematic behaviour,
  • contacted him during a self-exclusion period and
  • did not follow rules for the provision of credit.

In relation to this case, Richard Watson, Gambling Commission executive director, said:

We expect all operators to protect any consumer who maybe experiencing problems with their gambling, and operators shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that VIP customers don’t experience difficulties. No matter how wealthy customers are, operators still need to monitor them effectively to ensure they aren’t showing signs of problem gambling.