UKGC calls for “extra operator vigilance” in light of latest gambling behaviour data (but PG rate reduces from 0.6% in 2019 to 0.3% in 2020)

In light of fresh data showing the impact of Covid-19 on gambling behaviour in the UK in December 2020, the Gambling Commission has today (23 February 2021) called for “extra operator vigilance …. during the current national lockdown conditions”. Its website posting states as follows:

The Gambling Commission has published further data showing how the further tightening of Covid-19 lockdown measures has impacted online gambling behaviour in Great Britain.

The data reflects the period between March and December, inclusive, and covers both online and (where relevant) some offline gambling operator data, noting that December again saw the closure of all land based premises.

The latest online operator data for December shows:

  • Activity in the online market grew in a traditionally busy period, with a month-on-month increase of 6% in active accounts[1] and 12% in bets, while gross gambling yield (GGY), increased by 30% as a result of the return of strong margins for operators in real event betting and GGY growth and player number increases in other verticals such as slots.
  • Slots GGY increased by 13% to nearly £200m. The number of bets also increased (12% to almost 6 billion) along with the number of active accounts (up 6% to almost 3 million), both of which are the highest from within the Covid-19 pandemic period.
  • The number of online slots sessions lasting longer than an hour increased by 11% (to 2.5 million) in November to December. The average session length decreased slightly to 21.5 minutes with around 8% of all sessions lasting in excess of 1 hour.

Against the background of this data, and our experience of the pandemic period so far, extra operator vigilance is needed during the current national lockdown conditions because: 

  • Most people will be spending more time at home and online and many people are likely to be feeling more isolated and vulnerable as a result of the length of the pandemic period, the new restrictions and further uncertainty about their personal or financial circumstances.
  • We know that some consumers, such as highly engaged gamblers who play a range of products, are likely to spend more time and money gambling and the fact that sport will continue during this lockdown will mean there are more opportunities for betting customers to gamble.
  • We know that some people may gamble for the first time.

We recently wrote to operators to remind them of the guidance we initially issued in May to online operators and their responsibilities during this challenging period for the country.

We expect them to: 

  • Continue to follow the strengthened guidance issued during the first lockdown, taking close interest in data that shows consumers expanding their portfolio of games and spending more time or money than before.  
  • Interact directly where triggers are reached, as well as more generic email engagement.
  • Avoid any temptation to exploit the current situation for marketing purposes and be very cautious when seeking to cross-sell products.
  • Take particular care when on-boarding new customers and making decisions over affordability checks which reflect the environment we are in.

The Commission continues to track Covid-19 related risk by:

  • Assessing the impact of the strengthened guidance issued to operators
  • Monitoring key data and collecting and publishing this additional data
  • Supporting the industry as land-based premises adjust to changing restrictions Where evidence identifies additional risks faced by consumers, taking further action to protect consumers.

and will continue to:

  • Take steps to permanently strengthen regulatory requirements, encompassing changes to Remote Technical Standards (RTS) and Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) to protect consumers as we have over the last year on ad-tech, game design and high value customer programmes.
  • Monitor operators very closely and conduct our compliance assessments during this latest lockdown as we did last year. 

[1] This is the total number of times activity has taken place across all verticals; therefore, an active account may be counted more than once.

Read market update (opens in new tab)

Read operator data (opens in new tab)

You can also download each of those last two items of information below.

The Commission has also published quarterly telephone survey findings relating to gambling behaviour in 2020, the key facts of which are set out below (with our emphasis in bold):

  • Overall participation in any gambling activity in the last four weeks has fallen to 42% (a 5 percentage point decline compared to the previous year)
  • Online gambling participation is up to 24% (an increase of 3 percentage points), whilst in person participation is down 9 percentage points to 26%.
  • National Lottery draws and other lotteries have seen increases in online play and decreases in in person play.
  • In other activities, there have been decreases in participation in in-person football pools, bingo, betting on horse races, betting on other events and casino games.
  • 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).
  • The moderate risk rate is statistically stable (0.9%), whilst the low risk rate has shown a significant decrease from 2.7% to 2.0%.
  • Levels of agreement that gambling is conducted fairly and can be trusted have remained stable at 29%.

Some may query the Commission’s belief that a reduction by half  in the overall problem gambling rate from 0.6% in the year to December 2019 year to 0.3% in the year to December 2020 is “not a statistically significant decrease”. The answer will no doubt lie in the small sample size, but one can’t help but wonder what would constitute a significant PG decrease in the mind of the Commission.

Full details of the survey findings can be accessed here (and downloaded below).