Thursday saw the start of Safer Gambling Week in the UK – the fourth iteration of the industry-wide initiative which aims to raise awareness of the issue of gambling-related harm.
UK Gambling Commission
The forthcoming review of the 2005 Gambling Act has featured heavily in conversation, with a number of key points made across the iGaming space.
On Wednesday, the Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur, stressed that the aim of government and regulators is ‘to make Great Britain the world leader for safer gambling’.
Speaking at the ‘Raising Standards’ conference at the Southbank Centre in London, McArthur said the UKGC will act within its full powers to ensure all operators are in line with regulatory changes.
He also believes that the relationship between the Commission and operators should be mutualistic, saying: “We want to support the industry in raising standards, not just intervene when things go wrong and, in practice, this means engaging more directly with operators and groups of operators and it’s something that we are keen to do more of in the future.
“We are working hard to make Great Britain the safest place to gamble in the world and we need you to work with us to achieve that outcome. And, whilst I know that many of your businesses have faced enormous struggles. And I know that some of you will have been forced to make tough decisions to keep your businesses viable in recent months, the fact that everyone has kept customer protection at the top of their agendas – despite all the challenges – tells me that we are on the right track.”
Affordability, product design and the Single Customer View Project were mooted as three areas where the industry needs to improve, with these likely to feature heavily in the forthcoming review.
Betting and Gaming Council
On Thursday, the CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council, Michael Dugher, stressed that the industry is committed to Safer Gambling “not for one week but for all year round”.
He also said that Safer Gambling Week will be a huge success, despite a large number of retail venues being closed due to COVID.
The event’s strapline ‘Let’s Talk About Safer Gambling’ will still feature heavily online, particularly through banner ads and pop-ups. The range of tools available to help those suffering from gambling-related harm will also be heavily promoted.
The UK Gambling Review
Speaking of the review, Dugher said the industry is ready to cooperate with government. He stressed:
“We have already made huge strides in our first year, including a requirement that at least 20 per cent of all TV and radio betting advertising be safer gambling messaging, introducing cooling-off periods on gaming machines, encouraging deposit limits, bringing in new ID and age verification checks, and massively increasing funding for research, education and treatment.
“But we are eager to go further – and look forward to working with the Government on the Gambling Review to introduce further changes that ensure that the millions of people who enjoy an occasional flutter do so enjoyably and safely.”
These messages were consistent with the Consumer Protection Zone Digital Webinars, which ran Tuesday through Thursday in association with Clarion and iGB.
The Thursday webinar featured a robust discussion on the UK Gambling Act review, with the panel agreeing that now is the right time to assess it as the law was passed before the invention of the iPhone. Today everyone has a casino in their pocket while social media is so prevalent. It is therefore clear the 15-year-old law needs updating.
While it was accepted the review could take many months, there was a feeling that some changes could be made immediately. Lord Foster of the Peers for Gambling Reform, in particular, urged the industry to act, highlighting some of the things the BGC had already done such as increased spending on treatment. The BGC highlighted that their members had already changed game designs and speed of spins, with other changes coming as well.
In an interview with iGB’s Gambling Review Podcast earlier in the week, Foster also said that while he was happy the industry was now being more proactive to reduce gambling harm, he believes they have somewhat been dragged to the table on this matter after what happened regarding FOBT stakes.
He believes that many of the recommendations made by the Peers for Gambling Reform group will be implemented, and commended the Gambling Commission for upping its game recently by already examining some of these issues. Despite previous criticism and a desire for them to act faster, he also accepted that the Commission needs to be given the resources required to do its job properly.
Key areas Foster highlighted included the sponsorship of sport, how the Gambling Commission is funded, greater controls on affordability, online stake limits and loot boxes to be classified as gambling.
In the webinars, there was a view that there is not enough research available on gambling-related harm, partly due to the lack of data being shared. GDPR and data protection are potential barriers to this.
Fears about overregulation of the market were also raised, particularly in relation to Sweden, where numbers gambling in the onshore market dropped once new restrictions were put in place. Part of this was due to the introduction of the Spelpaus register, which is pushing gambling addicts towards the black market in their attempt to circumvent it. Gambling blocking software could be an answer here. Meanwhile, weekly deposit limits have also seen people open accounts with multiple operators, making problem gamblers harder to spot. These examples highlight why an evidence-led approach to the review is key.
The effect of COVID also featured in the webinars, particularly in relation to advertising. There is no data on whether there is a connection between problem gambling and advertising, but it is accepted that the perception of the industry amongst the general public is significantly influenced by the type and frequency of gambling ads. This is one of the reasons why gambling is perceived so negatively. However, with the UK industry focusing more on the Safer Gambling message during lockdown, the issue of gambling addiction has certainly entered the national conversation and this is undoubtedly a positive development. Despite this, NHS treatment for gambling issues still falls way behind that for drugs and alcohol.
Away from Safer Gambling Week, YGAM have again been active, partnering with the Metropolitan Police to train its Youth Engagement team on how to identify and prevent gambling-related harm in young people.
Later in the week, it was announced that Football Index have donated their shirt sponsorships of QPR and Nottingham Forest to YGAM so they can promote their services to a wider audience. Football Index will also make a £5000 donation to the charity.
Meanwhile, Bacta announced last Friday that they will prohibit under-18s from playing their Category D fruit machines from 1 March in family entertainment venues and seaside arcades, while Videoslots have become the first UK online casino to launch a responsible gaming bar which tells customers how long they have been playing, as well as giving direct links to Gamstop, the Gambling Commission and Videoslots’ responsible gaming page.
Andrew Morgan, Director, Dam Mad Media