The main talking points of the week erupted on Thursday, following the release of a new report by PWC.
Views On The PWC Report
Supported by William Hill and Entain Plc, the investigation was commissioned by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) and concluded that the British population is largely indifferent to black market operators, with their ease of use being a huge draw.
Around 4.5 million people were aware of such operators, but their illicitness hasn’t acted as a deterrent, with the number of UK bettors using them having jumped from 210,000 to 460,000 within the last year.
The stakes wagered with unlicensed operators have doubled from £1.4bn to £2.8bn in the period from October 2019 and November 2020, suggesting the black market has a ‘small but meaningful segment of the total market’. This was the conclusion of the previous survey detailing the 2018-19 period.
The BGC published the report during the review of the 2005 Gambling Act, with some anti-gambling campaigners believing the perceived threat of the black market has been over-exaggerated. The study will be submitted to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as part of their call for evidence.
Speaking about the report, BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said: “This new report by the PWC is an impressive and comprehensive piece of work which demonstrates how the unsafe, unregulated black market is a growing threat to British punters.
“These illicit sites have none of the regulated sector’s consumer protections in place, such as strict ID and age verification checks, safer gambling messages and the ability to set deposit limits.
“I know this evidence is inconvenient to those who seek to dismiss and play down the threat of the black market, but there is a real danger of complacency.
“The UK risks sleepwalking into changes where the main beneficiary is the unlicensed black market. We all have an interest in getting future changes right, so must take heed of this latest evidence and look at what is happening elsewhere around the world.”
This ties into recent statements made by the BGC, which were reported in this newsletter two weeks ago, concerning the UK Gambling Commission’s plans for enhanced affordability checks. A maximum £100 loss acting as a ‘safety threshold’ has been mooted, but the BGC warn this could push ‘ordinary punters towards the black market if checks on their income are too intrusive and onerous’.
Dugher’s view was backed up by William Hill CEO Ulrik Bengtsson, who said the Government has a duty to protect the regulated industry and customers from the threat of black market operators.
He stressed: “Criminals seeking to circumvent the regulated sphere and exploit the vulnerable are demonstrating increasing sophistication, complexity and capability which poses challenges to us to keep pace. This is also our view on the black market.”
He went on to state that the Gambling Review should be evidence-based, saying that tougher measures of compliance could “undermine the Gambling Commission’s own record in confronting illegal operatives.” This is particularly the case when black market operators are just a couple of clicks away.
He went on to stress that “the reason is that unlicensed operators do not offer the same protections as licensed companies. They do not have any of the safer gambling protocols in place that we use, there are no age verification checks, no anti-money laundering precautions, or any of the consumer protections that are now standard in the industry.”
Gambling Commission Funding
Regarding the tackling of the black market, the DCMS has suggested an increase in British annual remote licence fees by 55%, and all new licence fees by 60%, to aid the Gambling Commission.
The fee changes were proposed as part of a consultation by the DCMS which will close on 25 March.
The DCMS argues the Commission has three major challenges posed by increased technological developments, the regulation of very large global businesses, and the threat of unlicensed operators.
To combat the black market, the DCMS has suggested the UKGC hires more staff to assess the scale of the issue, as well as giving it more resources to act. An increased ability to prosecute unlicensed operators targeting British customers was also mooted, with all of this expected to cost £300,000.
UK Gambling Review
Related to the review of the Gambling Act, Barry Hearn, the Founder and Chairman of Matchroom Sport, has warned against another ‘tobacco scenario’ for UK sports.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the UK’s biggest promoter for darts, snooker and boxing has stressed that banning gambling sponsorship would be a ‘disaster for every layer of sport’.
“It’s all very well looking at Premier League football, but there’s lots of sports – and darts and snooker are two of them – when a considerable amount of that money goes down the chain towards grass-roots, which actually saves government money,” Hearn said.
“We’ve always looked to broaden our sponsorship, but the demand has been huge from gambling companies for our events.”
The Government banned tobacco advertising in 1995, which affected snooker and darts heavily, and Hearn has told SportBusiness that Matchroom has been put ‘under pressure’ by the current review. He says smaller events may suffer due to a lack of sponsorship should a blanket ban on gambling sponsors be implemented.
UK Regulation Changes
The other big news this week concerns slots, with the UKGC banning autoplay and quickspin features.
This forms part of a ‘package of strict measures’ based on a public consultation conducted last July which also includes a permanent ban on features that ‘speed up play or celebrate losses as wins’.
The new measures are expected to come into force on 31 October and have received the backing of the BGC, with Dugher saying: “As the standards body representing the regulated industry, the BGC is determined to drive change and promote safer gambling. That’s why we welcome the Gambling Commission’s announcement which builds on the BGC’s new code of conduct from last September for the design of online games in a bid to further improve player safety.
“BGC members have already introduced measures including the slowing down of spin speeds and banning several gaming features which have caused concern.
“Among the major commitments we have already introduced are minimum game cycle speeds of 2.5 seconds, the ending of turbo play, which allows players to speed up games, and the scrapping of multi-slot play, where a player can place multiple stakes on different games at the same time.”
The BGC is currently working on the improvement of ‘game labelling’, with the aim being to educate players on the characteristics and risks of casino games.
Earlier in the week, the UKGC hosted the first gathering of its ‘Lived Experience Advisory Panel’, highlighting the importance of consulting people with lived-in experience of gambling-related harm in efforts to reduce the problem.
Commission CEO Neil McArthur said: “The establishment of this group is a great step forward for us in our work in making gambling safer and building our understanding of harm and its impacts.
“As already proven by the input of the Interim Group, the views and perspectives of Lived Experience in our decision making is invaluable and is already having a positive impact in our work in addressing gambling-related harm.”
Progress has already been made in things like games design, customer interaction and affordability through consulting those with lived-in experience. The aim is to introduce further customer protections more quickly through the initiative, with the panel joining the UKGC’s advisory board on safer gambling.
French gambling regulator L’Autorité nationale des jeux (ANJ) have announced their three-year plan, which will be based around five key pillars:
1) Adding value to the gambling market by providing a prescriptive regulatory framework with clear guidelines for operators and effective deterrents for transgressors.
2) Placing players at the heart of regulation, with gambling-related harm being seen as an important public health issue as there are 1.4m problem gamblers in France.
3) Collaborating with regulators in other European jurisdictions.
4) Collaborating internally.
5) Building a progressive and creative regulatory system that can adapt to new products and technology.
To this end, the ANJ has already insisted on operators carrying out mandatory deposit limits and stringent customer care interventions. The maintaining of a positive public image of the gambling industry as a recreational pastime for consumers is also a key objective.
Malta Gaming Authority
Finally, there is a fascinating interview in iGamingFuture with Yanica Sant, the Head of Policy and International Affairs at Malta Gaming Authority, who talks about the lessons that can be learned from the last year and the growth of the market in SE Europe. Definitely worth a read on a Friday afternoon.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Andrew Morgan, Director, Dam Mad Media