‘Moment for Momentum’ speech provides interesting insight into future UKGC actions

Gambling Commission Executive Director Tim Miller has delivered a conference speech today (30 March 2021) entitled ‘The moment for momentum’ (that you can download below).

Of particular note are his following comments regarding the Commission’s finding (published on 23 February 2021) from its quarterly telephone survey relating to gambling behaviour in 2020 that “the overall problem gambling rate is 0.3%, compared to 0.6% the previous year, although this decrease is not a statistically significant decrease on the previous year’s figures (at the 95% level of confidence)”, namely:

…. in February we …. published the latest official statistics on participation and prevalence. It shows that the problem gambling rate in 2020 was 0.3%. This compares with 0.6% in 2019, 0.5% in 2018, 0.6% in 2017 and 0.7% in 2016.

Although the drop from 0.6% to 0.3% in the last year is not considered statistically significant at the 95% confidence level that we apply, when you look back over the last five years it does appear that there is an emerging trend showing a decline in overall rates of problem gambling …. We will continue to monitor this and remain vigilant. And we will not measure progress simply on this one metric alone. Most importantly, I want to be clear that this data cannot be seen as a reason to take our foot off the accelerator when it comes to protecting consumers. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to continue building momentum in our efforts to make gambling safer. 

Commenting on the Commission’s Remote Customer Interaction Consultation and Call for Evidence (that ran from 3 November 2020 to 9 February 2021), Miller said:

We have run a consultation and accompanying call for evidence on how best to improve the effectiveness of customer interaction. This consultation explored the themes of affordability, vulnerability and identifying and acting on indicators of harm …. The one deliverable that I know most people here today are interested in, along with the 13,000 people that responded to our consultation and call for evidence, is where the Commission plans to go next on customer interaction. Given the volume of responses that we have received it is perhaps unsurprising that the process of giving detailed consideration to all the evidence is still ongoing with extensive further work and engagement likely to be needed.

However, whilst that process is ongoing, in our casework and compliance activity we continue to see example after example of operators who have allowed people to gamble amounts that are clearly unaffordable with very limited or no customer interaction until a very late stage. Just to be clear, we are not talking about grey areas here. We are talking about clearly unaffordable levels of gambling. Dealing with those types of cases and the harm that is already happening and, where necessary, clarifying existing rules will be our immediate priority in any next steps. So I would encourage all operators to take a close look now at how they are assessing their customers’ risk and how they are interacting with customers because we certainly will be.

Miller also announced that the Commission’s new three-year Corporate Strategy is due to be published later this week, stating:

Our updated three-year Corporate Strategy, that will be published later this week, is written with this squarely in mind. A well-regulated gambling market, in which consumers have confidence that they will be treated fairly and are well protected, is the only sustainable basis for allowing businesses to provide facilities for gambling …. our new Corporate Strategy will focus on five objectives:

  • protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed by gambling
  • a fairer market and more informed consumers
  • keeping crime out of gambling
  • optimising returns to good causes from the National Lottery
  • improving gambling regulation.

Publication of the Commission’s new three-year Corporate Strategy will be accompanied by the Commission’s new Business Plan. Miller provided the following insight into this too, stating:

Alongside our Corporate Strategy, we will also be publishing our Business Plan this week. It outlines the key milestones we plan to complete and address during 2021-22 – a year in which implementing and ensuring operator compliance with enhanced player protection will continue to drive our work ….

…. It perhaps will come as no surprise that our business plan features work that addresses the risk of harm from gambling. Indeed the last couple of years have seen the debate around gambling regulation rightly dominated by such issues. We make no apologies for focussing the industry’s attention on this. But of course the licensing objectives don’t only seek to make gambling safer they also look to ensure it is fair and open, although I recognise that this is an area that doesn’t always gain the same level of attention. Our work over the last couple of years on terms and conditions, bonus offers and alternate dispute resolution have all been about making sure that consumers are treated fairly.

Not surprisingly in our view, the recent collapse of Football Index having provoked fears regarding the adequacy of protection of customer funds, Miller added:

In the coming business year, one of the areas we will be looking at in relation to consumer fairness is the protection of customer funds. Many of you will recall that we have consulted previously on this and at that time there wasn’t a lot of support for moving away from the current tiered approach. Of course, the gambling industry in 2021 is very different to that which existed in 2013 so in this year’s business plan we will be looking again at this question, both from the perspective of our own rules but also to inform any advice we may give on the wider statutory framework, through the Gambling Act review.

Reflecting the recent announcements regarding enforcement action taken by the Commission against Casumo Services Limited, In Touch Games Limited and five British land-based casinos for, amongst other things, AML failings, Miller stated:

Continuing to deliver the third licensing objective, keeping crime out of gambling, also features in our forthcoming business plan. This is of course another area that the review of the Gambling Act covers and again one where we will be developing our advice, especially in relation to the powers we have to disrupt or shut down unlicensed operators. In addition, we will continue to assess and tackle the risks that come from illegal gambling, including taking targeted enforcement action; as well as implementing the requirements of the 5th Money Laundering Directive.

Despite the recent very sudden departure of Neil McArthur from his role as Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, it appears from Miller’s following final comments that it will remain very much ‘business as normal’ at the regulator’s HQ:

We will continue to look for ways we can collaborate with others, including operators, to make progress, as we have done successfully over the last couple of years. And we continue to focus on prevention as our default, seeking to ensure that things go well in the first place. But we will also intervene if things go wrong and where operators don’t meet the standards that we, their customers or the wider public expect.

We will not move at the pace of the slowest. We won’t use some positive data to take our foot off the accelerator. We won’t be distracted from the immediate challenges and risks by the longer term policy debate. We will keep building momentum.