2020 is a year that will not be easily forgotten, in particular due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic which continues to have a profound effect globally on all facets of everyone’s lives. The virus has caused significant heartache with regard to the suffering and deaths of loved ones and we must not lose sight of this. Like the vast majority of all other sectors of the economy, gambling (online and retail) has also felt the effects of the measures taken by the various governments worldwide (including the United Kingdom and Gibraltar) in response to the pandemic. Accordingly, we are now being advised to prepare for significant changes in the year ahead as we alter how we do things moving forward and we step into the “New Normal”.
The imposed social distancing measures means that a large majority of us will be at home for most of the day and in some cases alone. This is of particular concern to the gambling industry: ensuring all operators continue to support and monitor their customers during an extended period of isolation. The added pressure of financial insecurity may lead customers to gamble without the means to do so. Consequently, during this period (and moving forward) it is essential that customer safety is paramount in terms of enhancing policy and procedures as part of an overall business plan.
As noted by the Gambling Commission of Great Britain’s (“the GC”) Chief Executive, Neil McArthur “Gambling related harm must be drastically reduced. If operators cannot protect their customers from harm then we are ready and willing to act, if necessary, using our powers to suspend and revoke operating and personal licences”. So, as we can see there is a strong message from regulators that a “New Normal” needs to be instilled into the mindset of all operators to make gambling even safer for customers.
So what is Safer Gambling?
The GC`s objective re: Safer Gambling
Safer gambling is a term used to describe the industry’s approach to limiting the risk of problem gambling and gambling-related harm. The term is often used interchangeably with ‘responsible gambling’(“RG”) and can also be referred to as the industry’s ‘social responsibility’(“SR”).The GC states“Safe and responsible gambling comes from an industry that takes care of its customers, customers who are empowered with the knowledge to manage their gambling and a regulator that ensures the consumer is at the heart of everything we do”.
In practical terms, it’s the gambling industry’s social responsibility initiatives to ensure integrity and fairness and to promote awareness of and combat the harms associated with gambling.
Safer gambling provisions, as set out in part 2 of the Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice (“LCCP”) includes:
- Cooperation and responsibility for third parties
- Financial requirements - Anti-money laundering
- Protection of children and other vulnerable persons
- ‘Fair and open’ provisions
- Complaints and disputes
- Gambling licensees’ staff
- Information requirements
- Gaming machines in gambling premises
- Assessing local risk
To support their statement, the GC recently outlined the key projects and milestones it plans to complete during 2020-21, which will necessarily and directly impact Operators. Preventing gambling harm to consumers and the public in light of the current climate will involve 1) raising standards in the gambling industry 2) optimising returns to good causes from lotteries 3) improving the way they regulate.
Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling will continue to be a major priority of the regulator as they push the industry to create a safer market for consumers. They intend to support the gambling sector in evaluating and improving the following initiatives, all of which will have a financial / resources impact on any Operator to implement and continuously review and improve:
- Markers of harm
- Customer interaction
- Responsible product design
- Single customer view.
The use of advertising technology to minimise the exposure of children and vulnerable people to gambling-related advertising is a key topic that requires further enhancements. This again is really important as social distancing rules have made it harder for people to leave their homes than before Covid-19 pandemic. Consequently, a lot more people have time to browse the internet for ways to stem their periods of boredom and ultimately in some cases, this may lead to gambling sites to provide some type of entertainment and release. In the UK there are approximately 24 Million active gamblers with approximately 1.25% (300,000) classified as problem gamblers. With current “lockdown” restrictions in place this could rise in the coming months. It is therefore important for Operators to analyze any trends in the increase of new or active gambling behaviour. As noted by the GC on the 12 May 2020 regarding SR Code Provision 3.4.1 (2b) “review your time indicators to capture play in excess of 1 hour as this is a proxy for potential harm”.
Despite the challenges the gambling sector faces, both the Operators and regulators must continue to make progress in these areas, wherever possible take opportunities to make gambling safer, especially online. These initiatives above are well known to the larger operators and form an important part of the implementation of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.
In summary, whilst progress has been made, there is still much more to do for both the regulators and operators in the coming months/years. In essence, what everyone would like to see is a drastic reduction in the numbers of people who are experiencing gambling related harm or are at risk of harm (particularly the young and vulnerable). We do see there is determination from the regulators and operators to do everything they can to make that happen. It will be interesting to see once COVID-19 restrictions start to ease what the actual impact has been to the gambling sector and their Customers. There will be no doubt a significant amount of learnings that can be taken and hopefully improved on to make gambling truly “Safer” for the consumer.
This article was co-authored by Head of Regulatory Consulting, Lawrence Hanlin.
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