The white paper – Proposals to update UK gambling legislation (IV)

Continuation of the previous article

By Dan Iliovici, Vice-President ROMBET

Benefits of gambling
Gambling can be sociable, can help tackle loneliness and isolation, can enhance the enjoyment of other activities, and can be a valuable pastime in its own right, although quantifying these benefits is inherently difficult.
There are also economic benefits to having a well regulated industry to service this demand.
The gambling sector also contributes significantly to other industries, including sport, advertising and racing. (…)
Gambling can also contribute to tourism, for instance to seaside towns across the country, or high-end casinos attracting wealthy overseas visitors who spend across a number of other sectors while in this country.
Additionally, some gambling products enable charities and other non-commercial organisations such as sports clubs to raise valuable funds.”

After this clarification, we continue the detailed presentation of the document.

Current protections
8. This section takes stock of the existing protections in place for online gamblers to contextualise the proposals outlined later in this chapter. Online gambling is a fully regulated sector, and the rules governing it are largely set out in licence conditions or technical standards on remote operators rather than in statute. This enables the requirements to be more detailed and to be amended more quickly over time to respond to technological change or new risks to consumers. Protections applied by the consumer
9. All licensed online operators must provide customers with a range of tools to help them gamble safely, such as gambling activity statements, ‘time out’ functionality, and facilities to set limits on spend. While the use of these tools by customers is voluntary and operators are afforded a degree of discretion around how they are designed, there are requirements attached to certain tools. For example, the option to set a deposit limit must be available to all customers from when they first open an account or deposit funds, and increasing a deposit limit must take at least 24 hours to come into effect.
10. While most gambling management tools are provided to help customers gamble safely, all operators must also offer self-exclusion facilities to help those who wish to stop gambling altogether. In March 2020, it became mandatory for licensed operators to sign up to GAMSTOP, the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme. According to GAMSTOP’s submission to the DCMS Select Committee which was published in March 2023, 345,000 individuals have registered with the scheme since April 2018.

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11. Other sectors and non profit organisations can also help consumers manage their gambling. Approximately 90% of UK current accounts from retail banks now offer opt-in gambling blocks which prevent card payments to gambling companies once activated. Similar tools are increasingly available from other payment providers like PayPal. Services such as Gamban and BetBlocker also allow consumers to block access to gambling apps and websites on internet devices. When used in conjunction with self-exclusion, payment and website blocks can add a further layer of protection for people recovering from gambling harm.

Protections applied by gambling operators
12. However, while these tools are helpful for many online gamblers, they are not enough to fully mitigate the risks, so there are also a range of obligations on operators to identify and prevent gambling-related harm. All operators must monitor player behaviour and use the wealth of data they have available to identify those who may be at risk and take action to protect them, in line with the Commission’s detailed guidance. Where needed, the actions taken must include encouraging or requiring a player to set limits, actively signposting to support services, suspending marketing in cases where there are strong indicators of harm, and unilaterally suspending or closing accounts.
13. While operators’ approaches to achieving this vary, the strengthened Gambling Commission rules which came into force in September 2022 and February 2023 clarify operator responsibilities around customer interaction and mandate consistency across the sector. These rules specify seven relevant categories of “indicators of harm” which all operators must monitor from the moment an account is opened (Figure 4), and set out how operators must tailor the action they take based on these behavioural indicators.

Figure 4: “Indicators of harm” online operators are required to monitor and example constituent indicators

Source: Gambling Commission, Remote Customer Interaction Guidance consultation*1

14. In addition, the regulator also sets the Remote Technical Standards which outline the security and technical standards for remote gambling operations. As well as specifying how certain account level protections should function, these include specific rules for online gambling product design, aimed at making sure games operate in a socially responsible manner and do not encourage potentially harmful gambling activity. Under the Commission’s product testing strategy which was updated in February 2020, games are subject to pre-release testing for randomness and fairness and, once released, subject to annual audits by testing houses.
15. In February 2021, the Gambling Commission announced revised standards for online slot games to make them safer by design. These mirror many of the existing controls on gaming machines and tackle some of the features which exacerbate the risk of harm to gamblers; for example, increasing the intensity of play or encouraging a false perception of the game, such as feeling in control of the game outcome or believing a game is due a payout.
16. Finally, there is also a range of other universal controls to make the online gambling experience safer, largely imposed through licence conditions on gambling operators. For example, there are strong age verification measures for setting up accounts to prevent children gambling, reverse withdrawals have been banned since October 2021 (building on guidance issued in May 2020), and the use of credit cards to gamble online was banned in April 2020, which the evidence suggests has been useful in preventing harm*2.

(to be continued in the next issue)


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