Having issued record-breaking penalty packages in the year 2018-19, the UK Gambling Commission has announced its intentions to clamp down further on illegal and irresponsible operations. The announcement came in the Raising Standards for Consumers Enforcement Report at the end of June.
The Commission issued £19.6 million in penalty packages over the period, up by around £18 million from the previous year. It also stripped three executives of personal management licences and issued warnings to four licence-holders and two notices of conduct.
Having conducted more than 160 regulatory and criminal investigations last year, and having dealt with 2,000 intelligence reports, it’s clear that the UKGC have long been taking active steps to make the gambling industry a safer space for consumers.
In spite of these past efforts, chief executive Neil McArthur acknowledges that the Commission can do more to protect consumers in the immediate future. He comments that while the Commission has “seen progress in some areas…there have still been too many occasions where [it has] had to step in with tough actions to protect consumers and the wider public.”
McArthur added: “Several online casino operators and members of their senior management have been sanctioned at the conclusion of [past] investigations due to social responsibility and anti-money laundering failings.”
As part of its new approach, the regulator will strengthen its focus on a number of areas, including: safer gambling, anti-money laundering, marketing and advertising, illegal gambling, affordability and compliance.
It has already made progress in some of these areas, having introduced its three-year National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms in April, reinforced by the changes to age verification measures at gambling sites in May this year.
However, these steps have not rectified the “frequent disconnect” the Commission has noticed between operators’ money laundering and terrorist financing policies. The regulatory body has also raised concerns over non-compliance with marketing, saying that some operators still advertise in a non-compliant manner.
These issues have brought about tougher financial penalties for regulation breach and marketing campaigns that are not socially responsible. Collaboration with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has reinforced the importance of social responsible advertising practices.
The Commission is taking more of an incremental approach to tackling illegal gambling activities, giving individuals and companies the opportunity to respond to cease and desist demands before escalating further. If a company fails to comply with a cease and desist demand, the issue will escalate to a formal criminal investigation, offering the Commision more investigatory powers.
The UKGC has also recommended a reconsideration of how affordability frameworks trigger problem gambling and how they determine a customers’ disposable income levels. This recommendation comes as an effort to ensure that appropriate steps to protect vulnerable players are taken as early as possible.
Identifying Good Practice
However, these improved efforts aren’t simply a matter of punishing non-compliant operators. The Commission is also working to identify good practice and emphasising examples of this to encourage all operators to raise standards. It has conducted eight workshops to remind companies of their regulatory requirements, keeping good practice at the top of their priority.
McArthur reinforced this point, highlighting that these efforts are not about punishing operators, but about improving consumer experience. He said, “I want gambling operators to work with us to put customer enjoyment and safety and the top of their corporate agenda.”
Support from Gambling Operators
In support of this new approach, some of the UK’s biggest gambling firms will pledge more money to protect consumers. William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral, Paddy Power, Betfair, Skybet and Bet365 have all pledged to increase their voluntary levy on profits from 0.1% to 1% by 2023, which is expected to bring an additional £60 million in contribution.
As well as this, the brands will spend a cumulative £100 million specifically on treatment for those with gambling problems, and will review the “tone and content” of their marketing and sponsorship content to ensure it aligns with the promotion of responsible gambling.
GambleAware, the leading UK gambling charity, has also expressed its support for the Commission. The charity highlighted the importance of other organisations working with the UKGC to ensure that gambling operators do their utmost to make gambling products safer. Mark Etches, chief executive of Gamble Aware commented, “Customers should be able to gamble in a safe and protected environment, where help and advice is promoted regularly.”
While it is not entirely clear how other gambling operators will respond to these changes, we can be certain of the UKGC’s tighter commitment to improving the landscape of the UK gambling industry.