Betting and Gaming Council (BGC)
In the UK, the debate over the forthcoming white paper on the reform of the 2005 Gambling Act shows no sign of abating, with the Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) again urging the Government to ‘ignore extremists’ who are campaigning against gambling in its entirety.
Writing on PoliticsHome, Michael Dugher highlighted the YouGov poll we covered last week which suggested that only 16% of people would be happy with arbitrary checks of their finances as part of measures to ensure player affordability.
With 59% of players believing that blanket checks on affordability “would lead to a large or substantial risk of customers using unlicensed sites,” Dugher stressed “the need to get future changes right” to lawmakers. Furthermore, he highlighted a warning issued last year from PWC that “UK punters using unlicensed sites had more than doubled in just two years”.
He went on to say that the regulated market is being undermined by “thousands of illegal gambling websites that don’t adhere to the strict standards in the licensed and regulated sector.”
He continued: “This includes targeting problem gamblers, not carrying out strict ID and age verification checks or offering the range of safer gambling tools provided by BGC members, like deposit limits and cooling off periods.”
Former DCMS Minister John Whittingdale
Backing these warnings was former DCMS Minister John Whittingdale, who told the BGC’s AGM on 20 January that the threat of the black market was serious and that placing greater burdens on those who gamble safely would merely cause many bettors to “look elsewhere”.
He remarked: “There are some in the campaign groups who dismiss it, who say the black market is tiny, that it is vastly exaggerated by the industry as a sort of bogeyman they use to try and argue against controls. I don’t believe that. I believe the black market is real.”
Furthermore, he denied claims that advertising led to problem gambling, saying: “I was very much aware that firstly the evidence that advertising leads to an increase in problem gambling is pretty much non-existent. Some have argued that it does but certainly the assessments I have seen showed no linkage.”
Whittingdale did tell Racing TV’s ‘Luck On Sunday’ show recently that there was “very widespread agreement that greater protection was needed” but went on to stress that “a really harsh crackdown on gambling” would “not be universally popular on the Conservative benches for a lot of Conservative MPs who recognise that gambling is an activity which millions of people enjoy without any harm.”
Whittingdale also tackled the issue of anti-gambling extremists at the BGC AGM, highlighting that one politician had described gambling as a “cancer in society”. He went on: “There are those, not least in Parliament, who think gambling is inherently dangerous. A minister in the House of Lords recently described gambling as a cancer in society – not gambling addiction, but gambling.
“Some lobbyists told me there are two types of gambler: gamblers who are addicts and gamblers who are potential addicts. That is a divide that is probably unbridgeable. In most issues, there is a reasonably clear difference between parties – but this is not the case in gambling.”
He went on to acknowledge the media hysteria around gambling, but also pointed out that BGC Chair Brigid Simmonds had said that “one problem gambler is one too many”.
In weighing this up, he said: “In actual fact, the incidence of problem gambling has been falling. So, the slightly hysterical comments made in the media would give the impression that this is a scourge that’s increasing by the month. But it was Brigid who said one problem gambler is one too many. So, it doesn’t matter if incidence is going up or down, as long as there are people who need help.”
In terms of betting sponsorship, he did highlight the potential threat to lower league football should this be taken away in the review. He also welcomed the idea of a gambling ombudsman.
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming (APBGG)
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming (APBGG) has also added to the debate this week, describing the UK Gambling Commission as an ‘underperforming regulator’ that acted beyond its regulatory powers, questioning whether it is the “Gambling Commission’s job to actively seek a significant reduction in the number of problem gamblers”.
In their ‘Investigation into the Competence and Effectiveness of the Gambling Commission’, they say the GC has ‘gone rogue’, having taken a stance that is against the gambling industry. They cited the BetIndex affair amongst others as their reasoning behind this conclusion.
The GC was also accused of ‘acting ultra vires’ when it comes to the issue of affordability checks, with complaints raised about their intrusiveness. The effect was to reduce the levels of gambling overall rather than problem gambling specifically, with the GC being on an ‘ideological mission’ to reduce gambling-related harms without an ‘evidenced-based strategy’.
In summarising the GC’s governance objectives, the report stated: “We believe that the Commission is acting ultra vires in its strategy of seeking to significantly reduce the number of problem gamblers. We are obviously not against the concept but believe that the Commission has neither the tools or expertise to attempt such a thing, which has never been attempted elsewhere, via regulatory methods alone. We believe that the Commission is on an ideological mission that will undoubtedly lead to an explosion in the black market.”
Dugher expressed his disappointment in the report, saying collaboration between the regulator and operator is key to safeguarding UK bettors. He also highlighted a number of shared objectives, as well as initiatives and directives, that the UKGC has supported.
He went on to say: “The report reminded me of the previous call by Iain Duncan-Smith to abolish the GC. I disagree with both. The GC is not perfect and is changing, but the regulator is rightly and importantly pushing forward steps to further raise standards on safer gambling.”
The APBGG report also makes a number of recommendations regarding the updated Gambling Act, including a differentiation between ‘high risk’ and ‘low risk’ gambling operators so the “level of regulation can be made proportionate”.
TalkBanStop, the 12-month pilot scheme launched by Gamcare, Gamban and Gamstop last year, will now continue until March 2023 having received new funding from a regulatory settlement which was approved by the UKGC. The additional money will be spent on more free blocking software licenses from Gamban as well as increased marketing of the tools and support available. All three have expressed their desire to continue the scheme beyond next March by securing more long-term funding.
PayPal has introduced Gamban’s blocking software in both the US and UK, enabling customers to halt online and offline gambling transactions, including on sports betting, horse and greyhound racing, person-to-person wagering, and on gaming and slot machines.
A statement on Gamban’s website read: “PayPal offering its users the option to block gambling transactions is a welcome addition to the gambling recovery toolkit.
“As we’ve always said, to give yourself the best chance of successfully overcoming your addiction, you may need more than one tool. Between blocking gambling transactions at your bank and PayPal, blocking online gambling with Gamban, self-excluding yourself with GAMSTOP and seeking support from GamCare you’ll give yourself the best chance at recovery.”
EPIC Risk Management
EPIC Risk Management are looking to expand their presence in both the US and UK too, and have brought in Martin Bland as their Director of Business Development to enable them to do this.
Bland will develop relationships with key industry stakeholders as well as working with existing clients to help them maintain their current service provision. He will also help EPIC ‘proactively develop’ their client base as part of their growth strategy.
Bland said: “I’m thrilled to be joining such a progressive company who are trying to pioneer this space of gambling harm minimisation. What’s been clear to me throughout the recruitment process and my short time here, is that EPIC is hugely passionate about its purpose.
“Ultimately, this organisation is about helping people and the more organisations we can work with provides the opportunity to help more people the better. My role here is about growth. Yes, organically the business will commercially grow but ultimately, the more companies we work with, the more people we interact with, the more people we help. So, that’s a massive goal of mine here at EPIC and I’m excited to get started.”
Moving to Armenia and two weeks ago we reported on the strict gambling reforms that were proposed as part of the country’s new Law on Advertising. Since then, the Armenian Parliament has approved the first reading of these amendments, which were introduced by Minister of Finance Armen Hayrapetyan.
This means gambling adverts are likely to be banned across all media, with the laws mirroring the stringent approach adopted by Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Georgia.
Proposals also include marketing being restricted to hotels rated four stars or above, border checkpoints and ‘in the front of buildings carrying out the similar business activities’.
The State Revenue Committee highlighted that the gambling sector in Armenia had grown threefold in four years, with wagering levels higher than the regional average, prompting the government to act.
Hayrapetyan said: “Compared to international trends, we have realised that our field is developing very fast and the risk of gambling is increasing. In the UK, for example, one in six players becomes a gambler… our index is six times higher.”
The proposals will soon be voted on by Armenia’s National Council before being passed into law.
This week, theScore Bet received RG Check iGaming Accreditation from the Responsible Gambling Council in Canada, becoming the first prospective private market operator in Ontario to achieve this.
In the Netherlands, CasinoNieuws reports that customers who search for licensed operators in Google are being shown ads that redirect to unlicensed sites. Related to this, on Thursday, Dutch regulator Kansspelautoriteit (KSA) issued a ‘consumer warning’ that unlicensed websites will soon be unable to be accessed from the country. This is part of the ‘Play Safe’ mandate under the KOA Act, with the aim of protecting the legal market. Illegal operators could see IP and payment blocks amongst other things.
In Sweden, the proposals put forward by Minister of Social Securities, Ardalan Shekarabi, have been backed by the Swedish Government and will now go to the Law Council for legislative review. The new rules should come into effect in January 2023.
The package of measures includes “new controls to limit aggressive advertising” as well as licensing measures to enable the protection of the “gambling market from unlicensed companies”. This will be aided by a “ban on the promotion of illegal gambling and an extended ban on the promotion of unlicensed gambling in order to increase the possibilities of preventing illegal gambling activities.”
Furthermore, there will be a “drastic reduction in volume” of advertising in general along with “the requirement for the moderation of casino games” in order to protect vulnerable and young people. Mandatory licensing for third-party games and software providers will also be introduced.
Shekarabi told the media that “the gambling market is where many Swedish consumers are vulnerable and therefore the government is right to take back control.”
Finally, GamCare released a report this week highlighting the level of gambling amongst RAF personnel, relating it to both mental health issues and the use of alcohol.
Based on survey data, 84.3% of respondents had no gambling-related issues but 2% gave responses which pointed towards a gambling problem, with a further 3.9% demonstrating a moderate risk and 9.8% a low risk of gambling-related issues. Being male, aged 18-24, and having a non-commissioned rank were the groups of personnel showcasing the greatest risk.
A number of key recommendations were made too, including:
1) raising gambling awareness and the potential of gambling problems amongst serving personnel
2) increasing screening for gambling problems, especially with personnel who fall into high-risk groups
3) providing training to help health professionals in the Defence Medical Services, as well as line managers, to be more aware of gambling-related harms and of any external gambling support available
4) providing education and low-intensity behaviour change strategies, tailored for the military, for those who are at risk of developing gambling-related issues
5) performing more research on how to overcome barriers to personnel seeking treatment
6) exploring both the severity and frequency of gambling-related problems amongst other services within the Armed Forces.