Volume: 16 Issue: 11
The British Gambling Commission (‘GC’) released on 14 November 2017 its Strategy 2018-21 (‘Strategy’), which outlines its five priority areas for the coming years, namely a focus on protecting consumers’ interests, preventing harm to the public, raising standards in the market, optimising returns to good causes from lotteries, and improving how the Commission regulates the sector.
“The GC has kept to its mantra of customer first - upon which all of this rests,” state Andrew Tait and Andrew Cotton, Partner and Director of Betting & Gaming respectively at Gordon Dadds. “The GC has now elaborated on this by stating that the customers bear a disproportionate level of risk - so it will keep trying to balance the playing field by placing more onus and responsibility on the operators to take preventive measures to protect the players from themselves. The GC specifically raises the expectation of enhanced and earlier interaction with customers to prevent consumer harm and focussing on tackling the provision of age restricted products and facilities to children.” “It is interesting to see the GC turn its attention to the lotteries sector; this may be prompted by the declining ticket sales figures for the National Lottery, which raises concerns about the reduction in funding for good causes,” notes Melanie Ellis, Senior Associate at Harris Hagan.
The GC, introducing its new Strategy, promises “tougher and broader sanctions” for those operators who don’t treat consumers fairly and fail to ensure gambling is safe. “We have already seen the GC remove its bias in favour of voluntary settlement and take a tougher approach to enforcement over the course of this year,” said Andrew Danson, Partner at Bird & Bird. “We have seen very significant fines this year, as well as licence reviews, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see more of the same. The GC also states that it will use its powers ‘to the full,’ which is a clear indication that the suspension or revocation of licences is a real possibility, in extreme cases.”
As part of its priority to ‘Improve the way we regulate,’ the GC notes that it aims to be “a risk-based, evidence-led and outcomes-focused regulator,” and emphasises a need to make further use of data and information to assist in the way it regulates. “The GC continues to emphasise the importance of an evidence-based approach but also says ‘the paucity of evidence cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing’ where circumstances indicate consumers may be at risk, and also says that the operators will have to prove that new products, which the GC considers may cause disproportionate harm, will not do so,” said Susan Biddle, Legal Consultant at Kemp Little. “A key question in practice, of course, is how such risk is to be assessed or disproved before there is available evidence, and when harm is anticipated but not yet actual.”
The Strategy also sees the GC continue with its theme of raising standards, asking for operators across the sector to focus on consumers in their thinking, and highlighting that the GC expects operators to maintain a “culture of accountability” to consumers as well as to the GC itself. “The Strategy points clearly to an expectation that this culture of accountability should be top-down, with real engagement from the Board in consumer protection,” explains Danson. “It is also a technology issue, with the GC making it clear that consumer protection measures should be designed into games from the start, not layered on afterwards, and data analytics and other technological measures should be used to detect and prevent harmful gambling.”
Separately the UK Government published on 31 October 2017 its ‘Consultation on proposals for changes to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures’ (‘Consultation’), which includes proposals relating to social responsibility measures for the online sector and generally for gambling advertising. The Consultation follows the review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures launched in 2016 by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (‘DCMS’).
Specifically the Consultation acknowledges initiatives taken by industry in the way of responsible gambling, but also expresses the Government’s desire to see industry accelerate its work to enhance measures to protect consumers. It outlines the Government’s expectations in this area including that operators implement the new multi-operator online self-exclusion scheme (‘GAMSTOP’) as early as they can, once it becomes available.
“The Government is clearly expecting the online sector to do a lot more in relation to protecting players but, for the time being, it appears to be keeping the position under review pending the outcome of the various ongoing measures, such as the introduction of GAMSTOP, the CMA investigation and the introduction of new Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (‘LCCP’) and Technical Standards requirements,” said Ellis.
In regards to gambling advertising, the Government has again found that more should be done by industry; proposed measures here include that the GC will consult on making the CAP/BCAP advertising codes a social responsibility requirement under the LCCP, thus enabling the GC to utilise its full range of regulatory powers in the event of breaches of these codes. Meanwhile the CAP will release dedicated guidance on gambling promotions and operators’ use of affiliates by the end of 2017.