In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis and national lockdown, the Gambling Commission pushed ahead and published its annual business plan for 2020-2021 on 1 April 2020. Clearly, the business plan was prepared before recent events, but Neil McArthur’s foreword heavily referenced current circumstances, including observing an immediate increase in participation in online gambling.
The Gambling Commission did not shy away from reaffirming its commitment to tackling gambling-related harm and holding operators to account by, “if necessary, using [its] powers to suspend and revoke operating and personal licences”.
The business plan outlined five key priority areas, whilst making it clear that “[e]verything [the Gambling Commission] do[es] is centred around making gambling safer, balancing the enjoyment people get from gambling and identifying the risks that gambling can present to consumers and the wider public.” These five priorities are:
1. Protecting the interests of customers
Focusing on new regulatory requirements to make gambling safer, specifically in relation to VIP/high value customers, responsible game and product design and advertising technology. This follows the recent work of the industry working groups, which we wrote about in our blog on 2 April 2020.
The Gambling Commission will also advise the Secretary of State on the Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005.
2. Preventing gambling harm to consumers and the public
Topping the Gambling Commission’s list is the intention to establish, by Q2, an ‘Experts by Experience’ Advisory Board, which will “ensure that the voice of consumers, particularly those who have experienced harm, fully informs decisions right at the heart of the Commission.” Industry reception to this initiative has been mixed, with Peter Hannibal of GBG describing it as “scary” amid concerns over the potential for a lack of representation from experts whose experience of gambling is positive. John White of BACTA is more welcoming of the initiative, but only if a wide range of players are the experts, not just those who have experienced problems. No details have been published regarding the Board’s constitution.
The Gambling Commission will also publish an evaluation of its actions to reduce the risk of harm to children and young people, and will review the way that it measures participation in, and prevalence of, gambling.
Finally, Neil McArthur mentioned in his foreword the single customer view initiative, which, with the use of technology, will aim to tackle the challenge “where operators currently only have a partial view of a customer’s behaviour.” This follows a two-day event on this subject on 11 and 12 February 2020. Further details are available here.
3. Raising standards in the gambling market
Raising standards by protecting against threats to betting integrity, developing an improved test-house assurance framework, implementing the Fifth Money Laundering Regulations, and delivering industry events and initiatives to raise standards.
It also intends to make online gambling safer by undertaking targeted action to improve standards in the remote gambling sector, which hints at the Gambling Commission shifting its focus in relation to its regulatory investigations and enforcement action.
4. Optimising returns to good causes from lotteries
The current National Lottery licence, held by Camelot UK Lotteries Limited, ends in 2023. A key priority for the Gambling Commission is the fourth National Lottery licence competition and “finding the right operator, who will innovate to engage players and protect them, run the National Lottery with integrity and continue maximising returns to good causes to benefit society.”
5. Improving the way it regulates
We very much welcome the Gambling Commission’s intention to improve accessibility to its:
- digital services, such as eServices; and
- often painfully slow and inefficient online application system.
How the Gambling Commission expects to achieve this when it is also considering reducing its staff headcount (as reported by the Guardian) is yet to be seen, but we remain hopeful.
It also plans to establish the case for changes to its fees and advise DCMS accordingly (this will no doubt mean increased fees!) and publish clearer documentation on its corporate governance process.
Given the global uncertainty caused by the pandemic, target dates may be subject to change. The Gambling Commission intends to review the position at the end of Q1, and revise the business plan, where necessary.
Nevertheless, the industry has been warned: “Those who fail to meet [the Gambling Commission’s] expectations will find [the] approach to enforcement getting even tougher than it has been to date.” Given that we have seen the Gambling Commission’s enforcement work (and financial penalties) increase steadily over the last few years, operators would be wise not to view this as an empty threat.