Writing an article entitled ‘The betting industry needs a gambling ombudsman’ for The Times ‘Red Box’ today, 5 July 2021, the Betting & Gaming Council CEO, Michael Dugher, has said:
Our latest initiative is our call on the government to set up a gambling ombudsman to deal with complaints raised by customers. Whilst systems already exist for handling issues of redress, I firmly believe that an ombudsman would significantly improve matters and it’s an idea whose time has come .…. There really is no reason to delay introducing something which will give customers access to a new and improved way of handling complaints.
He has added:
We are keen to work with the government on the finer details of what the ombudsman would look like and how it would operate. But there are a few basic principles which we would like to see.
For a start, we think it could mirror other examples in law, like the energy ombudsman, by requiring anyone with a UK betting and gaming licence to sign up to it. We also believe that, in order to ensure that the process is as simple as possible, the new ombudsman should replace all existing dispute resolution providers. Furthermore, it should be entirely funded by, yet remain independent of, the regulated betting and gaming industry.
It is also important to stress that we do not foresee the ombudsman being a replacement for the Gambling Commission. It should have a clearly-defined scope to take care not to directly rule on purely regulatory matters. However, the exact terms of reference for the new regime would be drawn up by the government.
Of itself, this is not a new idea. For example:
- To the best of our knowledge, the first serious suggestion that a Gambling Ombudsman should be appointed was made at the Gambling Commission’s first ever “Raising Standards” Conference in November 2016 by one of its then Commissioners, Walter Merricks (who had previously served as the inaugural Chief Ombudsman of the Financial Ombudsman Service);
- In June 2019, the then Deputy Leader of The Labour Party, Tom Watson, proposed the establishment of a ‘new gambling ombudsman to protect UK consumers’;
- In its November 2019 Interim Report in relation to its Online Gambling Harm Inquiry, the Gambling Related Harm APPG made clear its support for a Gambling Ombudsman “to deal with customer complaints and to provide an effective arbitration mechanism for claims against online gambling companies”. This was reiterated in its June 2020 Final Report;
- In July 2020, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry recommended that “a statutory independent Gambling Ombudsman Service” should be set up;
- In August 2020, a Social Market Foundation report entitled report entitled “Gambling review and reform: Towards a new regulatory framework” proposed creation of new Gambling Ombudsman, sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy;
- In May 2021, the Centre for Social Justice proposed the establishment of “a third party ombudsman for consumer protection with statutory authority to carry out affordability checks by working with banks, gambling operators, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Information Commissioner’s office”.
In his his December 2020 Licensing Expert article for SBC News, entitled “10 forecasts and a hope for 2021”, David Clifton forecast that similar calls for a Gambling Ombudsman would feature in many replies to the following question posed in the Government’s Call for Evidence in relation to its Review of the Gambling Act 2005: “Is there evidence of a need to change redress arrangements in the gambling sector?”.
That the BGC has itself now come out in support of a Gambling Ombudsman is of little surprise. Its newly adopted position on this subject is confirmed in the following BGC website posting dated 4 July 2021:
BGC CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO ESTABLISH A GAMBLING OMBUDSMAN
Standards body the Betting and Gaming Council has called on the Government to establish a Gambling Ombudsman to deal with concerns raised by customers.
The move comes as ministers continue the Gambling Review, which was launched last December, with Ministers expected to produce a White Paper at the end of this year.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said backing a Gambling Ombudsman was further proof of the regulated industry’s determination to drive up standards.
Systems for dealing with customer complaints already exist, but the BGC believes a Gambling Ombudsman would improve the process and make it more consistent for those raising concerns.
The BGC, which represents betting shops, casinos and online operators, is proposing that it should be a legal requirement for all licensed betting and gaming operators to sign up to the new Gambling Ombudsman.
Michael Dugher said:
“This is further evidence of the BGC’s determination to drive up standards in the regulated betting and gaming industry.
We hope that the Government will look favourably on our calls for a Gambling Ombudsman to be established as soon as possible following the conclusion of the Gambling Review, which we strongly support.
The BGC and its members recognise the need for further change in our industry and a new Gambling Ombudsman would be a step forward in customer redress – I’m proud to be giving it our backing.”
Conor Grant, chief executive of Flutter UK and Ireland, said:
“At the heart of our business is a focus on our customers – both delivering great entertainment and making sure that it is always underpinned by increasingly robust safer gambling practices.
And true commitment to putting customers first also means making sure that they have somewhere independent to go if something does go amiss – that is why Flutter is fully behind the call from the BGC today for the Government to include an Ombudsman in its plans for reform of the gambling industry.”