ABSG Year 3 Report on the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms
Earlier this month (on 12 May 2022), the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (‘ABSG’) published (with very little accompanying publicity) its ‘Progress Report on the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms: Year 3’, a copy of which you can download below.
Its criticisms extend not only to the UK licensed gambling industry but also to the industry’s regulator, the Gambling Commission. The criticisms include the following:
Areas for further progress
The Commission has made limited progress identifying metrics to measure the impact and effectiveness of its regulation. There continues to be a lack of data and metrics to measure the overall impact of the National Strategy towards reducing gambling harms.
The Commission’s 2021 Compliance and Enforcement Report demonstrates the same failures repeated by the industry. These often related to not carrying out appropriate affordability checks. Re-occurring patterns of non-compliance show the industry is slow to learn lessons and put protecting customers before commercial incentives. It is critical that new initiatives such as affordability checks and the development of a ‘Single Customer View’ (SCV) provide meaningful protections for consumers and data is not mis- used for commercial benefit.
There is a gap in suicide prevention activity in regulation and access to data from the gambling industry.
There have been positive examples of regulatory collaboration from the Gambling Commission with other bodies, such as the ICO. The recent Bet Index case and independent review, however, highlighted the need for continued improvement in regulatory partnership working. The Commission’s consultation on dual regulation addresses some of the outstanding issues but further collaborative work is needed to improve consumer safety. This includes Government action on strengthening consumer protection on sports based products which share some characteristics of gambling such as synthetic shares and non-fungible tokens and use of cryptocurrency which fall outside of theCommission’s remit.
There has been limited progress by the Commission on the use of data to encourage improved compliance by operators. We welcome the new work exploring how data driven approaches can be used to drive up standards and achieve better rates of compliance.
There is little evidence that operators are applying findings from key independent research. For example, the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) published research on ‘anchoring prompts’ which found that removing very high values in ‘drop boxes’ avoided consumers being nudged to deposit more money. Despite this finding from a randomised control trial, this practice is still widely used by operators. Regulatory controls appear necessary for this good practice to be adopted across the industry.
The ABSG’s Progress Report goes on to make a series of recommendations.
It could be thought possible that the above criticisms of the Commission might be reflected in the first of the ABSG’s following recommendations:
As the work to reduce harms expands and diversifies, oversight of all the activities to deliver the National Strategy cannot continue to be led by the Commission in the same way. It will have an ongoing role influencing and collaborating with other government agencies, local authorities and the third sector, but will turn towards investing a greater part of its resources in core regulatory activity.
We recommend that the Commission should continue to take a lead role in prevention and education work focusing on the gambling industry and collaborate with other government departments and regulators such as ASA, Committee of Advertising Practice, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Department for Education (DfE) and the OHID, Public Health Scotland and Public Health Wales. The Commission should also continue to collaborate with the third sector and Local Authorities on the wider prevention work that is necessary to keep consumers informed and safe.
The Commission’s new focus on enforcement and data driven regulation (opens in a new tab) will lead to greater demands on operators to comply on safety standards and embed safer gambling practises into on-the-ground business cultures and new technologies. All of these actions will be set within the UK Government’s move towards more agile regulatory regimes (opens in a new tab) where more power is delegated to regulatory bodies to achieve better outcomes for the public.
We recommend that by 2023 treatment and support activity should be overseen by other government departments – Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), NHS England, Population Health Directorate, Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland, Welsh Government, Public Health Wales, working in partnership with local authority and third sector organisations.
Funding for treatment, prevention and research should no longer rely on voluntary donations. ABSG previously recommended a statutory levy set at 1%. Regulatory Settlements have been a vital source of funding for activity linked to the National Strategy. Clarity on how funds will continue to be made available for innovation and evaluation is essential to sustained progress.
Recommendations on regulation
The ABSG also makes the following recommendations in relation to the Gambling Commission’s responsibilities and remit:
- increase resources for enforcement and compliance in land-based and online environments and publish operator data regularly
- create an independent single customer view as a means of improving risk assessment and customer intervention
- introduce clear requirements for customer interaction and affordability checks to mandate earlier intervention and better controls. Establish ‘hard stops’ on episodes of binge gambling and other forms of unaffordable gambling activity
- accelerate progress towards greater transparency and set metrics for annual industry performance data on safer gambling practices
- place new licensing requirements on operators to provide clearer product information (opens in a new tab) – such as house edge, warning labels and volatility statements
- establish zero tolerance for gambling related suicide across the industry using industry wide data – similar approaches to ‘never events’ (opens in a new tab) as established in other regulatory environments such as health and safety (opens in a new tab)
- explore use of performance based regulatory techniques (e.g. confusion audits (opens in a new tab)).
- create better signposting on systems of redress on the Commission website – and work towards establishment of an independent ombudsman
- ensure regulatory responsibility is established by Government for novel online products which consumers experience as gambling but do not fall within the Commission’s remit
- publish an annual report on complaints data showing breakdown by operator – best practice can be observed in the financial service industry (opens in a new tab).
- a positive step can be seen in the commitment in the 2022/23 Business Plan for further research to inform the actions could be taken through regulation to reduce suicide risks
- take leadership role in regulatory research by consulting on research priorities with a range of stakeholders and publishing a programme of research priorities
- continue to refine work on prevalence and participation/measurement of harms/risk matrix
- fund independent research on the structural characteristics of games and their relative risks, drawing on a wider range of research methodologies
- create a data repository (opens in a new tab) to improve transparency and facilitate independent research and create greater transparency on operator data to detect potentially harmful play – to establish best practice and thresholds for intervention
- enable more independent research and evaluation to establish what works in harm prevention – particularly operator led intervention and education and awareness campaigns, underpinned by the principles of Responsible Metrics (opens in a new tab).
Recommendations for an effective multi-partnership approach to prevention and treatment
It also makes a number of recommendations in relation to other UK Government departments’ responsibilities for prevention, treatment and research priorities, details of which can be viewed here.