Recommendations by VIP incentivisation, ad-tech and game & product design working groups

The Gambling Commission has today (1 April 2020) published its response to recommendations made by three industry working groups co-ordinated by the Betting and Gaming Council (the formation of which we reported in January 2020) following a challenge issued by the Gambling Commission’s Chief Executive at a CEO Breakfast Briefing in London on 2 October 2019.

The working groups’ recommendations are in relation to:

  1. use of VIP incentives (including imposition of (a) restrictions preventing under 25s from joining VIP schemes and (b) tightened controls for other VIP customers, certain of which are to be implemented as soon as 14 April 2020, with an industry code to be implemented within 3 months),
  2. measures for safer advertising online (including a strengthening of online advertising rules to better protect vulnerable groups) that must be implemented by July 2020, and
  3. responsible product and game design (in relation to which the Commission has expressed more criticism than it has in relation to the other two categories, commenting that whilst progress has been made on safer product design, the industry “must go further and faster, in particular around using demographics and behaviours to indicate risk”, with an industry code to be published in September 2020).

The Commission has stated as follows in relation to each working group’s recommendations:

1. Use of VIP incentives (working group led by GVC Holdings)

This group was established to develop an industry code which addressed poor practices around the treatment and incentivisation of high value and high spending customers also known as ‘VIPs’. The industry has agreed to:

  • Restrict and prevent customers under 25 years of age from being recruited to high value customer schemes.
  • All customers must first pass thorough checks relating to spend, safer gambling and enhanced due diligence before becoming eligible for high value customer incentives.
  • Reward programmes will also be required to have full audit trails detailing decision making with specified senior oversight and accountability.

The Gambling Commissions response:

  • The Commission will now consult on permanent changes to the Licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP)
  • The Commission expects the industry to implement its code as soon as possible and considers most measures should be implemented within 3 months
  • The Commission will monitor and support implementation of the industry’s code as an interim measure.

2. Safer advertising online (working group led by Sky Betting & Gaming)

This Advertising Technology challenge was aimed at reducing the amount of online advertising seen by children, young people and vulnerable adults. Actions taken immediately by the industry and to be in place by July 2020 include:

  • A common list of negative search terms (e.g. how do I self-exclude from gambling?) and suppression websites, which will help shield vulnerable groups from online gambling ads.
  • Better and more consistent use of customer data to ensure paid-for-ads are targeting away from vulnerable groups across social media platforms, instead of targeting for business
  • Implement an approach which means that advertising is only targeted at +25 age in social media and “Pay Per Click” advertising where platform facilities permit. This will protect young people and increase confidence in the social media platforms’ own age-gating
  • Age-gating YouTube channels and content
  • Adopting and rolling out to all affiliates a code of conduct which will be amended and updated on a regular basis to ensure all measures undertaken by the industry will be implemented equally by affiliates.

These measures will be adopted across the industry as soon as possible and in any event enshrined in the IGRG’s Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising (subject to consultation with Bingo Association and BACTA) and effective by July 2020.

Further, the Working Group will:

  • Establish a permanent cross-industry Adtech Forum to ensure an on-going focus on making further progress in this area, including conducting and evaluating trials of advertising technology.
  • Continue the proactive engagement with a wide range of stakeholders (including platforms) on agreed areas of work, with the aim of continually setting the highest standards in responsible digital advertising and marketing and ensuring that all relevant technology is utilised to achieve that.
  • Work with the Gambling Commission to publish and promote consumer advice, and work with online platforms and broadcasters to identify a more effective, simple and consistent approach, with regard to blocking gambling advertising.
  • Commit to monitoring and evaluating all actions to ensure only effective solutions are pursued.

The Gambling Commission’s response:

  • The Gambling Commission’s view is that the industry has developed an appropriate set of commitments which should help further limit exposure to online gambling adverts by vulnerable group
  • The Commission recognises that the online advertising ecosystem is complex, and some progress will be dependent on third parties, such as the social media platforms. In these instances, we expect industry to work collaboratively with the platforms to identify and implement further solution
  • By virtue of their inclusion in the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising, The Commission will now hold operators to account for these commitments from July.

3. Safer products (working group led by Scientific Games and Playtech)

These groups were tasked with developing an industry code for responsible product and game design.  Industry commitment from this work so far includes:

  • A minimum spin speed of 2.5 seconds on all slots.
  • Removal of game features which may encourage intensive play such as slam stops and turbo buttons.
  • Removal of split-screen slots which have been associated with potential loss of control.
  • A more detailed work plan which will include in-game messaging and the creation of a Betting and Gaming Council Testing Lab to look into other game features.
  • Publication of the final code in September 2020

The Gambling Commission’s response:

  • The Gambling Commission’s view is that while some progress has been made, this work must now go further and faster, in particular around using demographics and behaviours to indicate risk
  • The Gambling Commission will now consult on the priority areas for immediate action as soon as possible.

Neil McArthur, the Gambling Commission’s chief executive has said:

We have been encouraged by the progress on VIP incentives, safer advertising and safer products.  We set these challenges in order to deliver real and rapid change for consumers in key areas of risk. However, it is important these commitments are implemented as soon as possible. It should not take months to implement safeguards many would expect to be in place already. 

By working together with operators and seeking the views of people with lived experience of gambling harm we have been able to make significant progress, although there is always more to do. We will now consult on the necessary changes to our rule book to ensure all operators have to meet the new standards.

 Whilst we are encouraged by industry proposals for making gambling products safer we now call on operators to implement those proposals rapidly; but the proposals do not go far enough and we will now consider what additional measures we should impose on operators. 

 I recognise that the Covid-19 outbreak will impact on next steps and actions, in particular land-based operators. I welcome the fact that the operators involved and the BGC have remained committed to progressing this work during these difficult times. That is a positive sign of their commitment to make the industry safer.

Ultimately actions speak louder than words and any operator that does not put consumer safety first will find itself a target for enforcement action.

Brigid Simmonds, Chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council has said:

I am pleased with our members’ hard work and continued commitment to delivering substantial progress on the three safer gambling challenges set by the Gambling Commission on high value customers, advertising and game design.

The progress reported today including restricting under 25’s from qualifying for high value customer accounts; strengthened advertising rules and games with slower speeds and the removal of some functionality comes despite difficult operating circumstances during the COVID-19 crisis.

These measures, along with our recently announced 10 pledge action plan for COVID-19 safer gambling and our 22 industry safer gambling commitments will significantly transform and improve the environment for our customers and the wider public.  We agree with the Gambling Commission that there is still more work to do and we will rise to the ongoing challenge.

The Commission’s full response (entitled “Gambling Commission and industry collaboration makes progress on safer gambling”) can be downloaded below.