The Gambling Commission has today (1 April 2021) published its three-year Corporate Strategy and annual Business Plan.
When stating that the Commission is “building on work it is already undertaking following recommendations from three key reports in 2020 into gambling regulation”, its accompanying press release puts an extremely positive gloss on criticisms levelled at the regulator during the course of last year, namely:
- the February 2020 National Audit Office report entitled “Gambling regulation: problem gambling and protecting vulnerable people” that prompted Carolyn Harris MP, Chair of the Gambling Related Harm APPG, to say: “The Gambling Commission is not fit for purpose and Neil McArthur [its chief executive] should resign in the light of this report. The Commission is simply not up to the job of regulating the gambling industry, particularly the online sector, parts of which seem to operate like the wild west”;
- the June 2020 House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report entitled “Gambling regulation: problem gambling and protecting vulnerable people” report that impelled Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, to declare: “What has emerged in evidence is a picture of a torpid, toothless regulator that doesn’t seem terribly interested in either the harms it exists to reduce or the means it might use to achieve that. The Commission needs a radical overhaul: it must be quicker at responding to problems, update company licence conditions to protect vulnerable consumers and beef up those consumers’ rights to redress when it fails”; and
- the July 2020 House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry report entitled “Gambling Harm – Time for Action” , that led its Chairman, Lord Grade of Yarmouth to state: “Urgent action by the Government is required. Lax regulation of the gambling industry must be replaced by a more robust and focussed regime which prioritises the welfare of gamblers ahead of industry profits”.
Those criticisms have posed very considerable challenges to the Commission. A combination of (a) that challenge and (b) information imparted by Executive Director of the Commission, Tim Miller, in his 30 March 2021 conference speech entitled ‘The moment for momentum’, means that – save for our additional comment below – there are no real surprises in the substantive content of today’s press release, that reads as follows:
Gambling Commission launches three-year Corporate Strategy and annual Business Plan
The Gambling Commission has unveiled its new three-year Corporate Strategy which sets out the Commission’s focus as it continues to protect the public and players from harm.
Launched alongside the Commission’s 2021 to 2022 Business Plan, the new Strategy will be delivered through five priority areas:
- protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed by gambling
- a fairer market and more informed consumers
- keeping crime out of gambling
- optimising returns to good causes from the National Lottery
- improving gambling regulation.
Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed by gambling
The Commission will continue to ensure licence holders minimise the risk of gambling harm to vulnerable groups as part of a coordinated effort to understand factors that influence behaviour. This will be achieved through improving conduct and competence, continuing to evolve the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice, building a stronger evidence base, and focusing on preventative and regulatory action.
A fairer market and more informed consumers
Ensuring that products are fair and compliant is vital for the Commission – whilst also improving information for players and making it simpler for them to find information on operators they are gambling with. This also includes making licence holders’ complaints procedures easier to access and understand.
Keeping crime out of gambling
The Commission will persist in tackling those who offer illegal and unlicensed gambling to consumers in Great Britain, whilst also continuing, alongside partner agencies, to prevent activities which lead to money laundering. The Commission’s work to manage risks around sports betting integrity and event manipulation will also continue to be an important feature in future enforcement work.
Optimising returns to good causes from the National Lottery
The National Lottery continues to be one of the world’s largest and most popular with millions given to good causes each year. The Commission will ensure the effective management of the third licence continues, whilst also concluding the fair and open competition for the fourth licence – ensuring a smooth and effective transition.
Improving gambling regulation
Over the past year the organisation has been restructured to ensure effective regulation in the future. The Commission continues to support the Government in their Gambling Act Review whilst also building on work it is already undertaking following recommendations from three key reports in 2020 into gambling regulation. The Commission will work with DCMS to ensure it has the resources to regulate effectively, to ensure employees are continually developed and technology is harnessed to improve systems and processes.
Meanwhile, the Commission’s 2021-22 Business Plan sets out the priorities to accelerate progress in making gambling and safer for the public and players, including those at risk of harm and leisure gamblers. This includes a focus on improving the way the Commission regulates in parallel with other high-profile decisions to be announced later this year – such as the Government’s Gambling Review and a review of the Commission’s fees by DCMS.
Gambling Commission chair Bill Moyes said:
“Our new three-year strategy maintains the ambition of our previous strategy and goes further in considering how best we can use our current resources.
We launch the new Strategy and our Business Plan, which details our milestones during what is going to be a hugely important year for compliance and consumer protection as the country starts to move out of lockdown after a challenging 12 months.
Covid-19 has meant a shift in gambling habits and is exactly why the new strategy focusses on protecting consumers from harm, holding operators to account, creating a fairer market for all, and protecting the National Lottery.
Additionally, the launch of the Gambling Act Review was a pivotal moment earlier this year and whilst our work continues, we are aware that we must continue to adjust and challenge ourselves depending on the outcomes of the Review.
Over the next three years we will see the gambling industry change further, especially as the pace of innovation accelerates. As the regulator we must keep pace with that change, be ready to adapt, and ensure that the millions of people who gamble in Great Britain can do so safely.”
You can also view the the Commission’s Business Plan: April 2021 to March 2022.
The ‘additional comment’ to which we refer above is disappointment that, despite the quite damning criticism from:
- the National Audit Office that the Commission should articulate (a) what level of reduction it wants to see in the number of people affected by problem gambling, over what period of time this should occur and what would indicate good progress and (b) how it interprets which consumers may be vulnerable and when, and
- the Public Accounts Committee that the Commission has “an unacceptably weak understanding of the impact gambling harms has on people, there is a lack of either detailed measurable targets for reducing levels of harm or an understanding of the impact of any regulatory action”,
no more is said by the Commission – 13 months after the first such criticisms were levelled in relation to such shortcomings – than that, as part of its forthcoming strategy, it will be:
- building on the work [it is] already doing implementing recommendations from the NAO, PAC and House of Lords Select Committee,
- developing impact metrics to communicate progress against [its] priority work areas,
- developing a framework to help [it] evaluate the impact that [its] individual projects or interventions have delivered and
- working with [its] partners in the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harm and others to share data and learning from evaluations to further the gambling evidence base.
From the perspective of gambling operators licensed by the Commission, it might have been hoped that the Commission would by now have provided more detail concerning the “work it is already undertaking following recommendations from three key reports in 2020 into gambling regulation”, including in relation to prescribing realistic targets for reducing levels of harm against which to evaluate its own performance. Until such targets are known, it is surely not unfair to suggest that the Commission’s licence-holders will be ‘shooting in the dark’ when seeking to evaluate their own performance in that same respect.
Perhaps predictably, given the public and media criticism unleashed upon the Commission in the aftermath of the Football Index collapse, reaction on Twitter to its new Corporate Strategy has been negative, one tweeter even describing it as “a PR disaster”.
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