On 12 September 2022, the Gambling Commission’s new Social Responsibility Code Provision (“SRCP”) 3.4.3, partly came into effect. For now, however, the Customer interaction guidance – for remote gambling licensees (Formal guidance under SR Code 3.4.3 (the “Guidance”) will not take effect.
In its update of 2 September 2022, the Gambling Commission states that the delay in the implementation of parts of SRCP 3.4.3, and the Guidance, takes into account a request from the industry for “an extension to the timeframe for implementing these new measures”. Further, it “considers it would be beneficial to use the time now available to conduct further consultation on matters to be addressed in the guidance associated with SR Code 3.4.3 by way of a consultation on the guidance document itself”: something which, as we pointed out in July, it should have done in the first place.
The Gambling Commission describes the Guidance as a “living document which is intended to be amended over time”: we have previously set out our concerns about the Gambling Commission’s introduction or amendment, without consultation, of guidance that has the effect of a licence condition. The Gambling Commission states it is “particularly interested to hear about good practice in implementing the requirements, based on the lessons learned by operators during the period between April and September and to hear about any implications arising out of recent research, evidence and casework”. A cynic may suggest that its focus on good practice implementation is indicative that, following the consultation, any revised guidance issued is likely to be very similar to the Guidance, irrespective of any consultation responses submitted: a cycle that has become commonplace in recent times.
The Gambling Commission states that the consultation is “set to be launched during late September and will last six weeks” (rather than the usual 12). Its provisional intention is to “publish the guidance on requirements in December 2022 with it taking effect approximately 2 months after publication”. Whether it meets that deadline remains to be seen.
We strongly encourage all licensees to respond to the Consultation when it is launched.
The Guidance – delay and confusion
The Gambling Commission’s decision, at this late stage, to delay implementation of parts of SRCP 3.4.3 and consult on the Guidance is surprising, as is the fact that pending its consultation it will not require that remote licensees take into account any guidance whatsoever. It seems to us that the latter of these issues has largely been influenced by two factors. Firstly, the fact that the previous Customer interaction: formal guidance for remote gambling operators (the “Previous Guidance”) was issued under the old SRCP 3.4.1, which is also now no longer in effect. Secondly, the Gambling Commission is unable to amend the new SRCP 3.4.3 and require that licensees adhere to the Previous Guidance without further consultation.
This last-minute change creates a lacuna that will last until at least February 2023, which will confuse some remote licensees and infuriate others. Remote licensees are left in the unenviable position of being without any customer interaction guidance whatsoever at a time when, by its recent admission, the Gambling Commission’s “focus on customer interaction has been there for some time now and will certainly be continuing over the coming months”. There must surely also be a risk that consumers could be negatively impacted due to this lack of clarity.
The Guidance – fairness and reasonableness
It has been a requirement that remote licensees “take into account the Commission’s guidance on customer interaction” since 31 October 2019. As any licensee who has been subject to a compliance assessment or regulatory action will attest, in practice the Gambling Commission interprets “take into account” as “strictly adhere to”. This is clear not only from the actions of the Gambling Commission, but also from the affirmative language, such as “must” and “required”, that is contained in guidance it has issued in relation to customer interaction. The Previous Guidance has therefore, at least to some extent, had the effect of a licence condition.
Various regulatory sanctions have been imposed, or regulatory settlements agreed that can be linked, at least in part, to remote licensees’ failure to take into account the Previous Guidance. Those licensees may, rightly, feel aggrieved that a combination of convenient timing and poor regulatory governance, means that they were exposed to such sanctions when, contrastingly, their peers, who may be subjected to compliance assessments or regulatory action now, are no longer obliged to adhere to similar standards. Whether those licensees choose to challenge this unfairness remains to be seen and may depend on the Gambling Commission’s action during this hiatus.
Non-remote licensees remain subject to the requirement, by virtue of SRCP 3.4.1, to “take into account the Commission’s guidance on customer interaction”. This guidance, Customer interaction: formal guidance for premises-based operators (the “Non-remote Guidance”), sets out very similar requirements to the Previous Guidance. This difference in required standards is likely to aggravate non-remote operators, particularly if the Gambling Commission continues to take action against them based on a failure to take into account the Non-remote Guidance. They will also likely be concerned that their already diminishing pool of customers will continue to migrate to the remote sector, which, at least in the short term, is held to a lower standard or can justify non-compliance more easily.
We question whether the Gambling Commission has given adequate thought to the possible impact of this last-minute U-turn and the consequential risk of challenge:
- What will the position be for those licensees currently subject to regulatory action for failing to adhere to the Previous Guidance, or for those subjected to a compliance assessment in a period that straddles the change? What standards will they be held to?
- Will the Gambling Commission now expect licensees to adhere only to the literal wording of SRCP 3.4.3, ignoring not only the delayed Guidance but also the Previous Guidance?
- What are the current affordability requirements? Those requirements, in particular the requirement to consider ONS data and national average salaries when assessing affordability, were set out in the Previous Guidance and repeated in the Guidance. On what basis does the Gambling Commission propose to hold remote licensees who fail to meet those standards to account during this period?
The Gambling Commission has almost certainly opened a can of worms through this seemingly haphazard change. Licensees, consumers, stakeholders, and Government are all likely to have varying concerns. Whilst it is pleasing to see that the Gambling Commission has identified the risks linked to bringing all the requirements under SRCP 3.4.3 and the Guidance into effect without consultation, these issues could have been avoided if the Gambling Commission had given earlier credence to comments made by licensees, or industry stakeholders and advisors. The lateness of this change is embarrassing and the consequential complexities that now follow should be carefully navigated or the Gambling Commission may be exposed to challenge.
Next steps and SRCP 3.4.3
It is the Gambling Commission’s intention, subject to consultation, to introduce the remaining requirements of SR Code 3.4.3 and the associated guidance on 12 February 2023.
In the meantime, we encourage remote licensees to ensure that their policies, processes, and procedures comply with the existing requirements.
To assist licensees, we set out below SCRP 3.4.3 with deletions for those requirements not brought into effect on 12 September 2022.
All remote licences, except any remote lottery licence the holder of which does not provide facilities for participation in instant win or high frequency lotteries1, remote gaming machine technical, gambling software, host, ancillary remote bingo, ancillary remote casino, ancillary remote betting, remote betting intermediary (trading rooms only) and remote general betting limited licences.
- Licensees must implement effective customer interaction systems and processes in a way which minimises the risk of customers experiencing harms associated with gambling. These systems and processes must embed the three elements of customer interaction – identify, act and evaluate – and which reflect that customer interaction is an ongoing process
as explained in the Commission’s guidance (see paragraph 2). Licensees must take into account the Commission’s guidance on customer interaction for remote operators as published and revised from time to time (‘the Guidance’). Licensees must consider the factors that might make a customer more vulnerable to experiencing gambling harms and implement systems and processes to take appropriate and timely action where indicators of vulnerability are identified. Licensees must take account of the Commission’s approach to vulnerability as set out in the Commission’s Guidance.
- Licensees must have in place effective systems and processes to monitor customer activity to identify harm or potential harm associated with gambling, from the point when an account is opened.
- Licensees must use a range of indicators relevant to their customer and the nature of the gambling facilities provided in order to identify harm or potential harm associated with gambling. These must include:
- customer spend
- patterns of spend
- time spent gambling
- gambling behaviour indicators
- customer-led contact
- use of gambling management tools
- account indicators.
- In accordance with SR Code Provision 1.1.2, licensees are responsible for ensuring compliance with the requirements. In particular, if the licensee contracts with third party business-to-business providers to offer any aspect of the licensee’s business related to the licensed activities, the licensee is responsible for ensuring that systems and processes are in place to monitor the activity on the account for each of the indicators in paragraph 5 (a-g) and in a timely way as set out in paragraphs 7 and 8.
- A licensee’s systems and processes for customer interaction must flag indicators of risk of harm in a timely manner for manual intervention, and feed into automated processes as required by paragraph 11.
- Licensees must take appropriate action in a timely manner when they have identified the risk of harm.
- Licensees must tailor the type of action they take based on the number and level of indicators of harm exhibited. This must include, but not be limited to, systems and processes which deliver:
- tailored action at lower levels of indicators of harm which seeks to minimise future harm
- increasing action where earlier stages have not had the impact required
- strong or stronger action as the immediate next step in cases where that is appropriate, rather than increasing action gradually
- reducing or preventing marketing or the take-up of new bonus offers where appropriate
- ending the business relationship where necessary.
Licensees must prevent marketing and the take up of new bonus offers where strong indicators of harm, as defined within the licensee’s processes, have been identified.
- Licensees must ensure that strong indicators of harm, as defined within the licensee’s processes, are acted on in a timely manner by implementing automated processes. Where such automated processes are applied, the licensee must manually review their operation in each individual customer’s case and the licensee must allow the customer the opportunity to contest any automated decision which affects them.
- Licensees must implement processes to understand the impact of individual interactions and actions on a customer’s behaviour, the continued risk of harm and therefore whether and, if so, what further action is needed.
- Licensees must take all reasonable steps to evaluate the effectiveness of their overall approach, for example by trialling and measuring impact, and be able to demonstrate to the Commission the outcomes of their evaluation.
- Licensees must take account of problem gambling rates for the relevant gambling activity as published by the Commission, in order to check whether the number of customer interactions is, at a minimum, in line with this level. For the avoidance of doubt, this provision is not intended to mandate the outcome of those customer interactions.