Gambling Commission chief executive officer, Andrew Rhodes says the regulator will escalate penalties for failings, adopt more “prescriptive” approach to customer interaction and “ramp up” enforcement if industry continues to fail to live up to the Commission’s standards.
Rhodes made the remarks at the Westminster Media Forum Regulation Conference, where he spoke on the current state of the landscape in the industry ahead of the release of the Gambling Act review white paper. Rhodes hinted that the contents of the white paper should not necessarily be a surprise to anyone paying attention to the GC’s public comments.
“On behalf of the Gambling Commission, without waiting for what the white paper may bring, I can give you an overview on what we think needs to happen to make gambling in Great Britain as fair and safe as it can be, and what our next steps are to achieving that,” said Rhodes.
However, the regulator also said again that the regulator will not wait for the review to change how it takes action.
Rhodes adopted a strong tone on the subject of operators breaking standards: “Despite the successes that can come from this approach, we will not be complacent and will clearly set out the standards we expect. We will escalate the penalties for failings if we don’t see the industry start to consistently live up to our standards.”
“We intend to ramp up our enforcement work and the penalties that come with it,” he continued.
With this stark warning in mind, Rhodes argued that it was not just the public that suffered from shoddy standards, but the operators themselves: “Operators who aren’t compliant are not just letting their customers down or their own businesses. They are letting down the entire sector. Which should be frustrating for operators as much as it is for us.”
“Because we do also see good practice and improvements being adopted by some operators. But that will be for nothing if those operators who are making the changes we expect and demand continue to be drowned out by poor practice elsewhere.”
Rhodes also spoke to the global implications of GB gambling regulation. “Gambling is increasingly a global industry. Many gambling operators more closely resemble global tech firms than they do traditional bookmakers of yesteryear. And the British market is the largest regulated online market in the world.”
A prominent theme in Rhodes speech was the ambiguity of the best currently available data, as well as recent attempts to adopt better methodology. This comes after the Commission adopted a new survey methodology following a pilot scheme, despite this survey over-sampling gamblers.
“The same statistics we published that give a participation rate of 43% also say that just 0.2% of the population are currently termed problem gamblers,” said Rhodes. “That figure has come down over the last few years which is of course a good sign. But it is one we have only cautiously welcomed.”
“While our telephone survey is our official statistic we also look to the Health Survey data for England, Scotland and Wales for problem gambling data and the last set of combined survey results conducted in 2018 suggested 0.7% of the population were problem gamblers,” he continued.
Rhodes said it was the desire to acquire better quality, more frequent data that led the Commission to launch a participation and prevalence methodology pilot in 2021. While Rhodes spoke to how the initial results seem promising, the pilot won’t move onto to official statistics collection until 2023 – meaning it could be years until the survey is complete.
Better data, Rhodes continued, is needed for both the Commission and operators to make better decisions – especially in the current context where many people are already falling through the cracks.
“In our casework recently, we saw one example where a customer lost £60,000 in just two weeks and it was only then that the operator intervened. We found that no checks had been conducted prior to this point to assure the operator that the funds were legitimate, or event that the customer could afford it.”
“And a case where a customer lost £98,000 in five months without the necessary evidence being gathered to show this level of gambling was affordable to the customer,” added Rhodes.
Rhodes also pointed to some successes in the last few years: the 2019 industry challenges “led to better standards on VIPs, use of ad-tech online and games design,” as he described it. He further noted that the “ongoing work to develop a single customer view, between operators, ourselves and the ICO has the potential to reduce gambling harms without risking customer data.”
Despite these successes, Rhodes pushed against any tendency of waiting until the publication of the white paper before committing to action.
“No one in the gambling sector should believe that the Gambling Commission will accept waiting for the White Paper as an excuse not to tackle problems now. We don’t accept that, we don’t accept that anything should come before making sure you are trading as fair and as safe as possible. All the rest should be secondary.”