BGC calls for Online Harms Bill to crack down on unlicensed gambling operators

The Betting & Gaming Council (“BGC”) has today called for the UK Government to use the forthcoming Online Harms Bill to crack down on unregulated gambling operators (i.e. operators not licensed in the UK seeking to unlawfully target custom from UK consumers).

The subject of unlicensed online gambling operators seeking to target UK customers featured in yesterday’s session before the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry when oral evidence was given by the Gambling Commission’s Chairman, Bill Moyes, and Chief Executive, Neil McArthur (that can be viewed on here).

On its website, the BGC states:

Analysis conducted for the new standards body, the Betting and Gaming Council which represents UK regulated operators, reveals consumers are exposed to large numbers of unlicensed operators (38%) through search results for key gambling terms on major search engines.

  • 4 in 10 search results for key gambling terms on major search engines are unlicensed black-market operators
  • Danger that children are accessing illegal websites with no strict ID and age verification measures unlike U.K. licensed operators.
  • 27 million visits from UK IP addresses to black—market gambling sites
  • Estimated 200,000 people in U.K. have used illegal gambling sites in past 12 months

The BGC calls on the government to ensure that the Online Harms Bill, soon to be introduced in parliament, includes action to crack down on platforms who profit from unregulated, black market gambling operators.

There is a particular danger that children are accessing these websites where there are no strict ID and age verification measures deployed by U.K. licensed operators. New strict age verification procedures introduced in May 2019 for UK licensed operators require full verification of name, age and address before anyone can open an online account or place a bet.

The regulatory Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (formerly RGSB) warned in 2018 that internet service providers, app stores, search engine companies, and other relevant providers should be vigilant to the possibility of third party use of their products to provide illegal gambling to children and young people, and should be proactive in preventing it.

The sizeable proportion of gamblers using unlicensed operators reveals that the size of the active ‘black market’ in the UK today is worth around £1.4bn in stakes.

Web traffic statistics suggest that there are 27 million visits from UK IP addresses. Some unlicensed websites block customers from the U.K. but many of those can be circumvented using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).

Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the BGC, is quoted as saying:

Search platforms are promoting black-market gambling operators for profit, putting the British consumers, including children, at risk. None of the UK’s strict licensed safeguards are in place on these illegal sites. Regulated bookies and online operators have a strict zero tolerance approach to underage gambling, yet unlicensed operators are free to prey on vulnerable consumers. We welcome the Government’s Online Harms Bill. But it also provides the Government with a chance to clamp down on the black-market and help protect punters who want a flutter in a safe environment.

There is logic behind this call, bearing in mind that, as reported by us at the time, the Queen’s Speech December 2019 – background briefing notes contained (under the heading “Online Harms”) reference to the forthcoming review of the Gambling Act 2005 with the additional words: “My ministers will develop legislation to improve internet safety for all.”

The BGC’s website posting can be downloaded below.