The Gambling Commission addresses its position and the key themes from the wider gambling industry’s responses to proposed amendments to ‘Statement of principles’ and ‘Policy statement’
Putting the consumer first
Some respondents said that the emphasis on putting the consumer first is not consistent with the Commission’s remit as set out in the statutory licensing objectives. At best it amounts to regulatory creep and at worst to the Commission exceeding its powers and remit.
Respondents asked for an explanation of what is meant by putting consumers first and clarity about what is in the public interest. One expressed concern that the language used within the consultation may lead to unintended bias against operators and questioned whether the shift towards customer focus was appropriate. The same respondent asserted that the Commission should only intervene if an operator fails to deal with customers effectively.
The licensing objectives are about protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling, ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way and keeping gambling free from crime and disorder. Embedded within them is a clear focus on the consumer and wider public interest. The changes that we proposed within the consultation were consistent with our longstanding obligations under the licensing objectives and therefore are consistent with our expectation that operators put consumers first.
There is nothing new about placing the consumer at the heart of the regulatory system. However, a fast changing gambling industry requires all of us to stay alert to changing consumer experiences, including new risks to the detriment of consumers.
Placing a greater emphasis on consumer interest ensures that both operators and regulator recognise and respond to these changing circumstances, whilst remaining consistent with the licensing objectives. It represents a far less radical approach than some respondents seem to suggest but we acknowledge that we could have been clearer in communicating how our approach relates back to the licensing objectives.
The Commission’s obligations to the industry Linked to their concerns about our focus on putting consumers first, a number of respondents asserted that in pursuing consumer interests the Commission is going too far and we are failing to balance our obligations to the industry. Some respondents asked us to remember that consumers can often “play” the system, for example by misusing bonus offers.
In many retail or service provision sectors consumers are becoming better informed and more savvy in order to get the best possible deal. This is as true for the gambling sector as for others. Provided consumers’ actions do not introduce criminal activities into the gambling market, we have no legal basis to intervene and prevent something which operators’ own systems have made available.
Our legislative framework does not create competing duties to the public and to industry which we are required to balance. The focus of the licensing objectives is to protect the consumer and the wider public. However, as with other statutory bodies we have to exercise our powers in a way that is compatible with fairness and natural justice. The industry can feel assured that when taking decisions we will always seek to ensure that those decisions are lawful, rational and reasonable.