Coinciding the start of the second Covid-19 lockdown in England on 5 November 2020, Neil McArthur, the Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, has communicated the following message to online gambling operators, underlining the Commission’s expectation that operators will act responsibly, particularly in relation to individual customer affordability checks and increased social responsibility interactions:
A message from Neil McArthur to online gambling operators – latest Covid-19 lockdown measures
As you will know, new national measures have come into force in England today in response to rising rates of Coronavirus throughout the country. Wales had already introduced additional measures, as had Scotland.
People across the country are now facing restrictions that are likely to mean they are spending more time at home and some people may be feeling vulnerable as a result of the restrictions and uncertainty about their personal, employment or financial circumstances. I therefore want to take this opportunity to remind online operators of the Commission’s expectations during what I know is a tough and unsettling time for everyone, including gambling operators and the Commission. A lot has changed since the first lockdown in March and we have all had to constantly adapt to new ways of working.
As part of our work to strengthen consumer protection, back in May we issued new guidance to online operators to ensure that consumers were further protected following evidence that showed some gamblers were potentially at greater risk of harm during lockdown. This included tightening customer interaction rules around affordability checks, the prevention of reverse withdrawals and restrictions on bonus offers.
Since March, we have a clearer sense of the risks to consumers due to periods of lockdown as well as a clearer picture of the impacts on mental health and wellbeing. As was the case during the first lockdown, we know that there are likely to be significant numbers of people, particularly people from the retail and hospitality sectors, who will be at home for at least the next four weeks. In light of these recent developments and whilst I recognise the enormous daily challenges businesses are facing, I want to highlight again our expectations around customer safety:
Consumer protection must be paramount
We expect you to act responsibly, especially around individual customer affordability checks and increased social responsibility interactions.
We expect you to be very mindful that customers may be vulnerable and experiencing financial uncertainty, whilst others may be experiencing other effects of being isolated including, for example, feelings of anxiety, loneliness or boredom.
We expect you to know your customers and step in quickly if they are showing signs that they are experiencing or at risk of harm.
Marketing must be conducted responsibly
- We expect you to on-board new customers in a socially responsible way.
- You must not exploit the current situation for marketing purposes and should be very cautious when seeking to cross-sell online gaming products to customers who signed up with you in order to bet.
- We expect you to ensure that your affiliates are conducting themselves appropriately.
Compliance with licence conditions and codes of practice
- We expect you to act in a way that minimises the risks to the licensing objectives.
- Treat consumers fairly and communicate with them in a clear way that allows them to make a properly informed judgment about whether to gamble.
- Work with the Commission in an open and co-operative way and act in accordance with both the letter or the spirit of the regulatory framework we have set.
It is vital that all operators play their part in keeping their customers safe and we will be continuing to conduct our compliance assessments during this month-long lockdown.
If you want to share your own analysis of impacts to the industry, or share other information that may be relevant to our work, you can talk to Ben Haden, Director of Research and Statistics, who is collating all of the information about how Covid-19 is effecting the industry at this time. Additionally, if you have information or concerns about the behaviour of an operator, our Confidential Intelligence Hotline is continuing to take calls or you can email the team. You can also continue to contact your account manager in the normal way.
The gambling industry and daily life as a whole continues to be impacted by Covid-19 and during this time I want to ensure operators are both supported and aware of the expectations I have outlined above. We continue to be in touch with Government and our colleagues at DCMS and I will provide further updates when required.
Thank you for your continued support and if you do have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.
You can download below:
- the Gambling Commission’s website posting to the above effect and
- its webpage entitled “Customer interaction – Additional formal guidance for remote operators during COVID-19 outbreak” (in relation to which see our May 2020 posting entitled “New additional customer interaction guidance for UK licensed remote gambling operators”).
Note: Part 6 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) No. 4) Regulations 2020 stipulates that the regulations will cease to have effect after 28 days beginning on the day on which they come into force, i.e. meaning that the lockdown will end at midnight on 2 December 2020.
UPDATE: On the issue of customer affordability checks, we draw readers’ attention to:
- Our subsequent postings on:
- the Gambling Commission’s annual Compliance and Enforcement Report (including, in particular, the section entitled “Triggers and customer affordability”) and
- the Commission’s first-ever National Strategic Assessment (which also contains a focus on the issue of customer affordability)
- The Commission’s current Remote Customer Interaction Consultation and Call for Evidence (running until 12 January 2021), reported by us in our website posting entitled “Affordability at the fore of the UKGC’s Remote Customer Interaction Consultation & Call for Evidence“