Andrew Rhodes’ speech at the International Association of Gambling Regulators Conference: A call for collaboration
The current Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of the Gambling Commission, Andrew Rhodes, delivered a keynote speech at the International Association of Gambling Regulators (“IAGR”) Conference in Botswana on 16 October 2023. In this blog, we sum up the key messages from Rhodes’ speech, which was delivered to gambling regulators from across the world. Part One outlines Rhodes’s commentary on implementation of the UK Government’s Gambling White Paper, and Part Two summarises what was said regarding the Gambling Commission’s increasingly innovative approach to tackling black market gambling.
Part One: The White Paper
Rhodes introduced the White Paper by stating that the Gambling Commission is “pleased to see so many of recommendations adopted”. He proceeded to describe “the publication of the White Paper an important moment”, citing the need to update the gambling regulatory framework with “evidence-based changes” to keep pace with digitisation in society.
Rhodes acknowledged that “the White Paper is a key priority for the Commission”. However, he managed expectations by stating that “this will not be the work of a few months” given that the “Gambling Commission is either leading or supporting on the implementation of Government policy” in relation to “over 60 areas of work”. Rhodes then distinguished between priorities for the Government versus priorities for the Gambling Commission, the latter of which included to:
- “ensure bonus offers and incentives do not lead to excessive or harmful gambling,
- set further product controls for safer online games,
- require operators to identify and take action for financially vulnerable consumers and to tackle significant unaffordable gambling through frictionless checks that are not disruptive for consumers.”
Rhodes noted that some of these themes would be common to all regulators at the conference and that while “attitudes, politics, regulatory frameworks and so on may be quite different”, human behaviour is similar cross-jurisdictionally, which may lead to “some commonality in the way approach these areas”.
Prior and upcoming consultations
Rhodes confirmed that the Gambling Commission has received “over 2,300” responses to its first round of White Paper consultations and that those responses “can and will help us improve the changes we make to our rules and to how gambling is regulated in Great Britain”. He considered, however that there have “been some misunderstandings” in relation to financial risk checks, some of which he put down to the complexity of the issue the Gambling Commission is facing. However, according to Rhodes, in other cases, misunderstandings have arisen as a result of “deliberate misinformation designed to muddy the waters of debate and to torpedo the implementation of Government policy.” This is potentially (we think) a not-so-subtle reference to the open letter to Racing Post readers published in September 2023, in which the Gambling Commission complained that the Racing Post has been writing imbalanced stories about the financial risk consultation.
Rhodes went on to confirm that progress is underway on launching “the next tranche of consultations”, which will initially include:
- socially responsible incentives (such as bonuses and free bets), and
- gambling management tools (including online deposit limits and opt-outs),
with further consultations to follow in 2024.
Gambling data and the evidence base
Rhodes noted that besides consultations, the Gambling Commission is “leading on” improvements to “gambling data” and “the evidence base”. He mentioned that the Gambling Survey of Great Britain will launch early next year. It is set to be the “largest survey of its type” worldwide and attract around 20,000 respondents annually.
He proceeded to outline the “inherent conflict” in relation to the use of problem gambling data, particularly in the context of polarised debate. Rhodes noted that some may seek to cite a low problem gambling rate of between 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent of the population, at the same time as arguing that the same “sometimes limited” sample sizes create “insufficient evidence to support intervention in areas of higher risk”. Although this is contradictory, Rhodes acknowledged that the evidence base requires improvement and promised that the Gambling Survey of Great Britain would help to achieve this – with updated questions for the digital age and “predictable, regular data” for study.
With regard to the broader evidence base, Rhodes reiterated the six priority objectives which were set out in the Gambling Commission’s three-year evidence gaps paper, namely:
- early gambling experiences and gateway products;
- the range and variability of gambling experiences;
- gambling-related harms and vulnerability;
- the impact of operator practices;
- product characteristics and risk; and
- illegal gambling and crime.
Part Two: The black market
In the second half of the speech, Rhodes explained that the Gambling Commission has been taking an increasingly robust approach towards the black market. As above, the tackling of illegal gambling is a priority area of the Commission’s three-year evidence gaps paper, published in May 2023. Rhodes emphasised that while the black market is an issue, it “is not a significant concern” due to the high rate of channelisation. Channelisation refers to the proportion of consumers who gamble in the licensed market in comparison to the illegal market.
Rhodes outlined some of the actions that the Gambling Commission has been taking to “disrupt unlicenced , illegal online operators through collaboration with others”, which has broadly involved “going upstream, further away from where formal powers begin”. This means working with others to intervene between illegal operators and British customers to “generally frustrate their business and force them out of the market”.
Rhodes gave examples of what this work entails:
- increasing engagement with payment providers and financial institutions,
- collaborating with internet search and service providers to delist illegal operators from search results and geo-block their websites,
- working with social media companies to remove posts which promote illegal gambling,
- cooperating with Gambling Commission software licensees to prevent access to products which appear to be available on illegal sites, and
- engaging with Gambling Commission licensees where affiliates have placed adverts on illegal websites.
Rhodes revealed that the Gambling Commission’s combative approach has:
- “more than doubled the number of successful positive distribution outcomes”
- “close down hundreds of illegal lotteries”
- “stop influencers promoting unlicensed gambling.
Further, between May and July, Rhodes explained that geo-blocking had restricted access to four of the top 10 illegal domains, and there was a 46 percent reduction in traffic to the largest illegal sites.
The Gambling Commission also “block 17 sites from Google search results through collaboration with Google, and “remov payment facilities from illegal sites” through their work with Mastercard.
Rhodes pledged to “continue to study the impact of interventions and respond accordingly”, and to “deepen collaboration with partners in industry, tech and finance” to further strengthen their disruptive capabilities.
Moreover, Rhodes revealed that the Gambling Commission would be holding a Conference in March 2024 to explore “how can work with partners to further decay, frustrate and drive out illegal gambling”.
Rhodes reflected that “strong collaboration with others”, including with other regulators, has been crucial to the results the Gambling Commission’s disruptive enforcement work has yielded so far. However, he wants to see further collaboration take place and urged other regulators to join him in forging and strengthening relationships.
This is Rhodes’ second time speaking at the IAGR conference. His last speech, delivered in Melbourne in October 2022 at a time when the White Paper was still pending, appealed for gambling regulators to work better together; share data and evidence; adopt common approaches; and coordinate actions where possible.
This year, Rhodes recognised the role that collaboration has had in successful outcomes during the last year, including in relation to tackling illegal online operators, and reiterated his call for overseas regulators to “share notes” with the Gambling Commission on gambling operators that trade globally.
Rhodes also emphasised that the Gambling Commission is “more than ready to work with ” – referring to a recent roundtable with nine US and Canadian jurisdictions as an example of the Gambling Commission “establish clear working relationships that will support all of us to be more effective”.
At the conclusion of the conference, IAGR members elected Ben Haden of the Gambling Commission as their new president. Mr Haden takes over the presidency from Jason Lane, the Chief Executive of the Jersey Gambling Commission.
This blog has been written on the basis of the published version of Rhodes’ keynote speech available here, which may differ slightly from the delivered version.