In the Gambling Commission’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2017-2018, chief executive Neil McArthur provides his perspective on the regulator’s progress over the last year.
This has been a year of change across the gambling sector – a year that has seen increased public scrutiny of the industry and of the Gambling Commission as the regulator of commercial gambling and the National Lottery. It has also been a year of change for the Commission as we developed, published and prepared to implement our Corporate Strategy (2018 to 2021) and reorganised ourselves to ensure the consumer is at the heart of our work.Significant progress has been made – which you will find detailed in this annual report – but much more remains to be done as we work to make gambling fairer and safer in Great Britain.
EMPOWERING AND PROTECTING CONSUMERS
Ever-evolving technology, the use of data by those holding it and the way that data now drives behaviour have presented the Commission with some of our biggest challenges during the year. Ensuring we keep pace with these changes is essential and we have been insistent operators must use data they hold to protect consumers responsibly.
As perceptions of, and attitudes towards, gambling shift we must use all our resources,the work we do in advising government and through the organisations with which we partner, to make gambling fairer and safer.We must minimise the risk of gambling being a source of crime and protect young people and the more vulnerable in society from potential harm or exploitation from gambling.
Balancing consumer choice against the risks gambling can create to the individual and wider society raises a number of hugely important and highly complex issues. The fact public trust and confidence in gambling is declining demonstrates the delicate path we, as regulator, must tread. Our work looking at unfair terms and practices in the gambling industry seeks to address some of the concerns around fairness and we continue to review how consumers are being treated by firms.We’ve set clear expectations that operators need to know their customers better, and updated guidance around customer interaction in terms of what firms should look out for and when to intervene.
Over the past year we have conducted a review of the online gambling market,setting out proposals to enhance consumer protection.We strengthened requirements for online gambling sites to improve the information available for consumers so they can make more informed choices about how they gamble.
BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS, UNDERSTANDING RISK
Our evidence shows that 430,000 people in this country are problem gamblers and up to two mil- lion are at risk of having a gambling problem. Whilst the proportion of problem gamblers and at risk of problem gamblers numbers has remained stable, this proportion needs to start falling. One of our biggest achievements over the past 12 months has been to raise the profile of the impact of the harm caused by gambling. Significantly, this is now being recognised as a public health con- cern (something highlighted by The Lancet maga- zine in September 2017).There is now much greater awareness and a realisation that a gambling problem is also a societal one.
A key piece of work for us in the last year was providing comprehensive advice to government as part of its Review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures. Protecting consumers and preventing harm is at the heart of our advice, which is based on the best available evidence and is focused on reducing the risk of harm to consumers. Key evidence underpinning our advice is data that we obtained from the industry about how consumers use gaming machines, including fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). Data covers nearly 20 billion plays on machines in bettingshops, and over 2 billion plays on machines in adult gaming centres and bingo venues.
Much of our work over the past year – both as regulator and working in partnership – has been aimed at shifting perceptions of gambling-related harm by raising awareness of how gambling can harm the individual, their families and wider society. This will be an area of continued focus in the coming years.
In conclusion, as we reflect on a productive year and anticipate the many challenges ahead. I was delighted to be appointed as the new Chief Executive for the Gambling Commission, and look for- ward to leading this organisation as we deliver our ambitious strategy.I want to ensure we have the safest, well-regulated gambling market in the world that consumers have confidence in. I want to thank the Board for its support and our staff for their hard work, dedication and energy. I am proud to lead an organisation full of talented, committed individuals, all of whom really believe in the work we do to create a fairer and safer gambling market for British consumers.