UK gambling sector urged to tackle heightened problem gambling risk during coronavirus lockdown

DCMS Minister Nigel Huddleston MP has urged the gambling sector to do all it can to tackle any heightened risk of problem gambling during the coronavirus lockdown.

He has written to the Chief Executives of five leading online gambling operators asking them to take extra steps to protect players at this time of heightened risk. He will also host a virtual roundtable with major problem gambling treatment and support organisations on the impacts of coronavirus.

A DCMS press release published yesterday (21 April 2020) – that you can download below) – states as follows:

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has requested regular intelligence from the industry on patterns of gambling during the coronavirus outbreak, including how operators are managing the risk of problem gambling and what more companies can do to promote safer gambling messaging during the current crisis.

Culture Minister Nigel Huddleston has written to the Chief Executives of five leading online gambling operators – Bet 365, GVC, Skybet, William Hill and Flutter – and the trade body the Betting and Gaming Council – to:

  • Request regular and comprehensive internal data around online gambling habits as a result of the ongoing lockdown measures;
  • Remind them of their responsibilities and encourage extra steps to protect players at this time of heightened risk;
  • Call for a greater prominence of safer gambling messaging within their advertising aimed at existing and potential customers across television, radio, online and print media. This should more clearly warn of risks and signpost people to sources of support, such as GambleAware.

The latter action follows the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announcing an increase in gambling-related complaints since the start of the coronavirus epidemic. DCMS has requested further details from the ASA on the scale and trends of these complaints.

These measures will support DCMS and the Gambling Commission to make a full assessment of the impact of the current circumstances on gambling habits, monitor whether risks are materialising, to what extent operators are taking action, and whether the current regulations and voluntary measures by the industry are sufficient to prevent an increase in gambling-related harm.

Although there is no firm evidence at this stage, there are concerns that the current social distancing measures could lead to an increase in problem gambling online with people in lockdown and internet usage up.

This follows reports received by the Gambling Commission of a recent increase in consumer activity around online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports, following the cancellation of most live sport and the closure of all land-based gambling premises. Players of online casino games, for instance, have been identified by the Commission as over three times more likely to be problem gamblers than those who take part in general sports betting.

Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, said:

“As we stay at home and spend more time online, it is vital that no stone is left unturned in protecting people from gambling related harm.

Whilst overall gambling participation has fallen in recent weeks and the industry has made notable contributions to support the national response, we must take proactive steps now, and keep these measures under review.

I expect patterns of play to be closely monitored so we can move quickly if there is any evidence of problem gambling increasing. I also want more to be done to promote responsible gambling during the pandemic”.

The Minister will also host a virtual roundtable with major problem gambling treatment and support organisations in the coming weeks. This will provide an opportunity to discuss the impacts of coronavirus, to assess trends in service use, how remote treatment provision is working and an assessment of current self-exclusion measures.

The government has already taken strong steps to ensure consumers are protected from gambling related harm including introducing a ban on gambling with credit cards, which came into effect across Great Britain on 14 April 2020. At the end of last month it also became mandatory for all online gambling operators to integrate with Gamstop, the online self exclusion tool, ensuring that consumers only need to sign up once to be blocked from all licensed online gambling.

The Government has also already announced that it will review the Gambling Act to ensure it is fit for the digital age. Further details about the review will be provided in due course.

The Betting & Gaming Council reports on its website that it has replied to the Minister as follows:

Dear Nigel

Thank you for your letter of 20th April regarding safeguarding online gamblers during the covid-19 lockdown period.

We strongly welcome the proactive approach taken by you on this matter. I know from our previous conversations just how seriously the Government takes this issue and you have been steadfast in reminding the industry of the high standards you rightly expect and demand.

I have also been grateful for positive feedback you have given the BGC about our ten pledges for enhanced safer gambling during covid-19 and for the contribution the industry is making across the country to support the National Effort. I can give you 100 per cent assurance that despite the severe financial pressures the industry is under at present, our members in the regulated sector are fully committed to working with you and the Government to address all concerns on safeguarding customers.

As you know, the Betting and Gaming Council is the new standards body which represents betting shops, online gaming businesses, bingo and casinos. We don’t represent the National Lottery, which represents a huge amount of gambling in the UK, nor do we represent large society lotteries and arcades, so we cannot therefore speak on their behalf. Further the BGC does not represent any unlicensed, unregulated offshore operators that exist online via the black-market that may be targeting UK customers. I am sure, though, that the Government is committed to tackling the issue of problem gambling wherever it occurs, without fear of favour.

Whilst there has been a significant drop in total gambling with no live sport and with all betting shops, bingo halls and casinos closed, our members are already stepping up safer gambling messaging, interventions and initiatives to ensure that any customers betting online are doing so safely.

As you recognised in your letter, we have already introduced a 10 pledge action plan with tough new safer gambling measures during covid-19 which go beyond current regulatory requirements. This includes actively promoting deposit limits, increasing safer gambling messaging, restricting and blocking accounts where necessary, and taking action to ensure responsible advertising, including monitoring volumes.

As you set out in your letter, we fully support a mandatory requirement for all UK licensed online operators to sign-up to GamStop and believe that those operators that refuse to do so should undergo an immediate licence review by the Gambling Commission. We are pleased that the Gambling Commission has recently taken action on those who refuse to sign up to GamStop. All BGC members have implemented the recent changes in GamStop requirements which have strengthened player self-exclusion. As you know there are no safer gambling measures in place on the illegal black-market and we will work with the regulator to identify these companies to ensure that they are blocked from access in the UK.  I can also assure you that all our members have introduced a ban on gambling with credit cards as of 14th April.

You have asked for safer gambling messages to be given more prominence in all adverts across all channels. I am happy to say that we will immediately work with our members to examine how we will implement this as an immediate high priority.

We can further confirm that our members have received a request for data from the Gambling Commission and we will work to ensure that this is urgently provided to the regulator. We will also look to expedite agreed changes to VIPs, advertising technology and game design. Our members have already implemented restrictions on VIP accounts for anyone under 25 and will look to bring forward age-gating on advertising technology to help prevent under 25s receiving advertising along with all other measures.

We can assure you that we are firmly committed to increasing funding for research, education and treatment (RET), despite the severe financial pressures that our members are under during the covid-19 crisis. We will work with your Department and the regulator to ensure that funding is well managed and targeted where it is required.

Last year the largest operators committed to increasing RET to 1% of GGY by 2023 up from 0.1% as provided by guidance from the Gambling Commission. What is most important to us is that we direct this help to where it is needed as soon as possible. Therefore, our largest members are looking to make this commitment to those organisations that are already approved by the regulator and that are able to quickly scale up existing delivery of safer gambling research, education and treatment. In addition, we have committed a further £10 million to safer gambling education and £3.8 million to continue the BetRegret public awareness campaign.

We will work with you, the Government and the regulator to address any further areas where there is an identifiable increased risk to customers during the current crisis.

Yours sincerely

Michael Dugher

Chief Executive

You can read more about:

  • the BGC’s ten pledge action plan for safer gambling here,
  • compulsory participation in GamStop with effect from 31 March 2020 here,
  • action taken against online operators who had not commenced participation in GamStop that date here, and
  • the “agreed changes to VIPs, advertising technology and game design” here.


Tags: ,