UKGC – “business as normal” but COVID-19 guidance contains a particular warning for online operators

In part by way of response to queries raised by some licensees regarding consequences on their business of the current coronavirus crisis, the UK Gambling Commission has published “Guidance in light of COVID-19 outbreak” on its website.

The guidance (that you can download below) is generally in the nature of a “business as normal” announcement in terms of regulatory compliance, but it does contains a specific warning for UK licensed online gambling operators to pay particular attention to, amongst other things (a) ongoing affordability checks, (b) financial trigger levels for AML and social responsibility interactions, (c) increased customer interactions, (d) regularly refreshing KYC information whilst their customers may be experiencing disrupted income patterns due to the impact of COVID-19 and (e) not exploiting the current coronavirus situation for marketing purposes.

It reads as follows:

Gambling Commission guidance in light of COVID-19 outbreak

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to impact daily life in Great Britain, like many of you, the Commission is following Public Health England guidance and we have told all staff to work from home until further notice.

We recognise these unprecedented circumstances will be having a significant impact on businesses and many will be facing uncertain and unsettling times. The Commission has a well-practised and comprehensive Business Continuity Plan, which we have invoked with the intention of minimising the impact on our regulatory work and the advice and services we provide. 

A number of operators have already contacted us to alert us to the challenges they face and seek our advice about how to respond.  We realise that the unprecedented changes to daily life, and in some cases, financial uncertainty, will create challenges for your business.  The changes will also increase the risks to some individuals, which means that despite the fact that these are challenging times we must all continue to protect consumers.

Here you can find information about how the Commission will be operating during this time, along with important reminders about how you should continue to protect consumers.

COVID -19 – A reminder to operators

First and foremost, we expect all our licensees to follow the applicable Public Health guidance. Where facilities for gambling are being offered we expect all our licensees to ensure that they have sufficient management, staffing and oversight in place to maintain compliance with the LCCP that apply to their licences. 

Fees and applications 

Our expectation remains that licensees ensure the maintenance of sufficient management, staffing and oversight in order to uphold the licensing objectives. Licensees should assess their ability to maintain compliance with the LCCP and consider voluntary partial or full suspension of their offerings should compliance not be achievable and until such time that a fully compliant service can be offered. 

Unfortunately, due to the way that our fee system is structured we don’t have the ability to reduce fees.

We are also unable to fast track applications. We will continue to monitor the situation and will communicate any changes to our expectations accordingly.

A reminder specifically for online operators

The social distancing measures that are being put in place will mean that more people will be at home and we would like to remind online operators that they must continue to act responsibly, especially in regards to individual customer affordability and increased social responsibility interactions.

As a reminder, we expect licensees to:

  • Assess individual affordability on an ongoing basis – customers may be experiencing disrupted income. (Social Responsibility code 3.4 refers to our guidance –  ‘Customer interaction- formal guidance for remote gambling operators’ )
  • Increase social responsibility interactions and intervene where customers are showing signs of gambling related harm
  • Onboard new customers in a socially responsible way and not exploit the current situation for marketing purposes
  • Refresh the information they have on customers regularly
  • Review the levels which trigger interaction for AML and SR
  • Ensure that your gambling products have been tested by a test house before they are released to the market.

UPDATE: As subsequently reported by us here, on 30 March 2020, the Gambling Commission published updated COVID-19 Guidance & FAQs” 

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