This month’s ‘burning question’ answered

Clifton Davies director, David Clifton, and Dan Waugh (partner of Regulus Partners) answer the burning question in this month’s EGR ‘Big Debate’, namely “In light of a parliamentary inquiry into the Gambling Commission, is the UK regulator fit for purpose?”

That question is directly linked to an investigation into “the competence and effectiveness of the regulator of British gambling, the Gambling Commission”, recently launched by the Parliamentary All Party Betting & Gaming Group (APBGG), in relation to which the APBGG has issued an invitation to stakeholders to submit (by 31 October 2021) their complaints about the Commission in relation to circumstances:

  1. where they feel the Commission has acted Ultra Vires or beyond their powers as a regulator,
  2. where they feel the Commission has acted in breach of the Regulators Code – rules by which all regulators must abide (s.22 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006) and/or
  3. where they feel the Commission acts in a way that can be considered either incompetent or providing poor customer service or as many have suggested unworthy of the licensing fee.

David’s answer to the question posed by EGR is as follows:

This is not a new question. It is one that has already been explored by four other Parliamentary bodies within the last 18 months or so.

The most damning indictments have been those of the Gambling Related Harm APPG and the Public Accounts Committee, whose respective Chairs concluded that the Gambling Commission “is not fit for purpose” and is “a torpid, toothless regulator that doesn’t seem terribly interested in either the harms it exists to reduce or the means it might use to achieve that”. I disagree with both of those opinions.

More measured criticism of the regulator was made by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social & Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry, but its call for ”lax regulation of the gambling industry” to be replaced by “a more robust and focussed regime which prioritises the welfare of gamblers ahead of industry profits” grossly mischaracterised the Commission’s high standards of regulation.

The most valid criticism of the regulator was that delivered by the National Audit Office which, amongst other things, called on the Commission to articulate what level of reduction it wants to see in the number of people affected by problem gambling, over what period of time this should occur and what would indicate good progress.

It’s easy to criticise the Commission for its exasperatingly poor website search engine, for jumping ahead of itself in the affordability debate and for the time it has taken to determine licensing applications whilst its staff have been working from home, but do these factors make it unfit for purpose? I don’t think so.

It has a new Chairman and a new CEO, both with a mission to “transform” the Commission. Although some criticisms of the regulator voiced by the APBGG have a sound foundation, this is not the correct time for those within, or associated with, the UK licensed industry to jump on the same bandwagon as those opposed to gambling or demanding that much stronger regulatory controls are imposed on the British gambling industry.

This is a topic upon which we have also made comment in our website article of last month entitled “Might the law of unintended consequences apply to the latest Parliamentary scrutiny of the UKGC?”