GAMSTOP is a multi-operator self-exclusion scheme which enables players to restrict their online gambling by self-excluding from online operators with a single request, rather than requesting exclusion from each operator individually. Through the scheme, which was launched in 2018, players in Great Britain can elect to self-exclude from online gambling websites and apps for a period of six months, one year, or five years. Once the minimum duration period has elapsed, the self-exclusion remains in force until the player requests that GAMSTOP remove them from the scheme.
Whilst initially, participation in the scheme was voluntary for operators, the Gambling Commission announced on 14 January 2020 that participation would become a licence condition on 31 March 2020, meaning that any of the more than 200 operators who had not integrated the scheme by that date would be in breach of a mandatory condition of their licence. The compulsory integration of the scheme, together with other initiatives such as gambling blocking software and payment card blocking, forms part of the Gambling Commission’s National Strategy for Reducing Gambling Harms, a three-year strategy which aims to drive and coordinate efforts to create a lasting impact on reducing gambling harms.
Indeed, the Gambling Commission did not delay in taking action against operators who had not complied by the 31 March 2020 deadline. On 3 April 2020, it announced that it had suspended the licences of two operators who had failed to integrate GAMSTOP – Dynamic Bets Inc, trading as Prophet, and Sportito.
Neil McArthur, CEO of the Gambling Commission, said:
“We have made it clear to operators that we are ready and willing to use our powers to protect consumers, as this action demonstrates. Self-exclusion is an important tool to protect vulnerable consumers, which is why we made it compulsory for all online operators to be signed up to GAMSTOP by 31 March. We took action because the operators had not complied by the deadline, which placed vulnerable consumers at risk.”
Though Prophet and Sportito have since integrated the scheme and had their licence suspensions lifted, the failure by both operators will now result in a review of their licences.
The swift action taken by the Gambling Commission highlights the absolute importance of licensees’ compliance in the current climate. The Gambling Commission has clearly shown that it will not be distracted by the global crisis and will continue to take whatever measures are necessary to protect consumers and protect the licensing objectives.
At a time when much of the gambling industry is in turmoil, licensees must ensure that they are not so distracted by protecting their commercial interests that they neglect their compliance obligations. Whilst ensuring the financial viability of the business will, understandably, be at the top of all gambling businesses’ agendas at this time, taking an eye off the ball when it comes to compliance may prove to be a very costly mistake further down the line.
Operators and suppliers should therefore ensure that they stay abreast of the Gambling Commission’s latest updates and are prepared to implement any required changes. Monday 14 April 2020, for example, will see the ban on the use of credit cards to gamble for all online and offline gambling products, with the exception of non-remote lotteries, come into effect, and operators must ensure that they are ready to implement this with immediate effect, or face similar action against their licence(s).
- introduce restrictions on customers under 25 years of age from being recruited to VIP incentive schemes;
- require increased safer gambling, enhanced due diligence and spend checks before any customers are recruited to such schemes; and
- require full audit trails detailing the decision-making process to require greater accountability when customers are recruited to such schemes.
Whilst no date has yet been set, these new requirements are expected to be in place no later than July 2020. It would therefore be wise for operators to consider how they will implement these changes now, in order to reduce workloads when gambling operations return to normal.