The Gambling Commission has published its Business Plan for 2020-21 (that you can download below).
The plan outlines the Commission’s key priorities for the year ahead, including an ongoing commitment to reducing gambling harm, and continuing its work in making gambling safer, particularly online.
Announcing publication of the plan, the Commission’s CEO Neil McArthur has said:
We begin a new financial year in extraordinary circumstances, the Covid-19 virus will bring significant challenges for us all, including the gambling industry. With social distancing measures in place people are more likely to feel isolated and now more than ever operators must ensure that consumer safety is paramount.
Gambling related harm must be drastically reduced and if operators cannot protect customers from harm we are ready and willing to act; if necessary we will use our powers to suspend and revoke operating and personal licences.
Since our review of online gambling in 2018 we have tightened age and ID verification rules, strengthened rules around customer interaction, and unfair terms and conditions and most recently we banned gambling on credit cards. This year we will continue to deliver our recommendations by addressing VIP incentives and making online advertising and online gambling products safer.
The volume and complexity of our work continues to grow. However, we will continue to focus our resources on the areas that have maximum impact for the greatest number of consumers and will make sure we have the capacity and capability to keep pace with emerging issues and risks that regulating a complex industry requires.
The Commission’s announcement goes on to state:
As part of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harm the Commission will continue to work alongside partners to ensure improvements in prevention and education, and treatment and support resources are developed. In 2020/21 the Commission will launch an Experts by Experience Board to ensure that the voice of consumers, particularly those who have experienced harm, fully informs decisions right at the heart of the Commission.
As well as running the competition to appoint the next National Lottery licensee, the Commission will also support the Government’s planned review of the Gambling Act and are already working hard to take account of the findings in the recent National Audit Office Report into gambling regulation.
Likely to provoke immediate controversy is the Commission’s stated intention to set up an ‘Experts by Experience Advisory Board’ (during Q2). In the absence of any additional information within the Business Plan, the Commission’s clear intention to place particular emphasis on the views of consumers who have experienced gambling-related harms may well be interpreted by some as increasing the likelihood that senior personnel within the Commission will base crucial policy-decisions more on those consumers’ opinions than on (a) the views of consumers who enjoy gambling without experiencing any associated harms and (b) fact-based evidence presented to it by its licence-holders.
However, the fact that creation of an ‘Experts by Experience Advisory Board’ is a key aspect of the new Business Plan should come as no surprise given that, like so many other recent regulatory developments, its origin can be traced directly back to a recommendation from the Gambling Commission’s external advisors, the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG). Indeed, we predicted as much in our 20 January 2020 website posting entitled “Clear flagposts towards future Gambling Commission direction of travel”.
In that website posting, we reported on the ABSG’s “Advice to reduce online harms”. It states as follows in relation to the concept of “experts by experience”:
The development of effective interventions requires input from experts by experience. The Gambling Commission, and its partners in the delivery of the National Strategy for Reducing Gambling Harms, should take steps to learn how experts by experience are used in other public health contexts and apply this to gambling. We are delighted to see the formation of a partnership with the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland. We look forward to taking part in the development of wider networks to engage experts by experience in England and Wales.
Those who are licensed by the Gambling Commission may also wish to take specific note of the following extracts from the CEO’s foreword to the new Business Plan:
- We look forward to supporting the Government’s planned review of the Gambling Act. We are already working hard to take account of the findings of the recent National Audit Office Report into gambling regulation.
- We want to support the industry to implement and evaluate the following initiatives:
- Markers of harm
- Customer interaction
- Responsible product design
- Single customer view
- The use of advertising technology to minimise the exposure of children and vulnerable people to gambling-related advertising
- We will continue to focus our resources on the areas that will have the maximum impact for the greatest number of consumers. We will also make sure that we have the capacity and capability to keep pace with the emerging issues and risks that regulating a complex industry requires. We must explore the case for a review of our fees as part of that work.
- We want to see a drastic reduction in the numbers of people who are experiencing gambling related harm or are at risk of harm. We are determined to do everything we can to make that happen.