NAO White Paper: So what happens now?

NAO Report Gambling Commission
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Coinslot spoke to its colleagues across the media channels to reflect on some of their take-aways from the Audit Office’s evaluation of the Gambling Commission and what it means for the impending reconstruction of the UK’s gambling legislation.


With last week’s white paper from the National Audit Office representing the regulator’s first serious methodological inquest since its inception, it seemed apposite to assemble senior commentators from within the broad based industry to assess some of the report’s likely ramifications.

“The biggest question arising from this is what next for the Gambling Commission,” iGaming Business editorial director Stephen Carter told Coinslot. “While the increasingly influential Gambling Related Harm APPG seized on the report’s conclusions as further confirmation that it’s not fit for purpose, the NAO itself put the deficiencies in the GC’s player protection strategy down to resource restrictions outside of its control as well as poor data on which to base policy decisions.”

Carter’s perspective comes from an acutely sharp focus on the i-Gaming sector which, incidentally, is the lens like focus for the Commission itself; but, for the latter, not necessarily in a good way. The i-Gaming Business editorial director struck a key chord: funding and analytical skills, he suggests, is really what’s at the heart of the NAO findings.

At the same time, it would be fair to say that the regulator does not emerge from the report with a whole lot of love. Even before the NAO compiled its findings, UKGC could barely raise a credit from either the industry nor senior politicians, a point expanded upon by Sports Betting Community managing director Andrew McCarron who zeroed in on the NAO’s finding of a lack of objective focus at the regulator.

“The NAO report highlights what operators and some suppliers have been saying anecdotally, the Gambling Commission has these commendable high ideals, but isn’t able to say in practical terms how to reach them,” he said. “The report touches on the need for regulators to have clear, measurable objectives, but that also extends to those being regulated. Too often the regulated have had to second-guess what is acceptable for the regulator, only to find out later that it might not have been enough.”

iGaming Times correspondent and industry specialist Imogen Goodman agreed: saying that the report had “flagged up some systemic issues with the UK’s regulatory system” which the new government would feel “compelled to address in their forthcoming review.”

“At a time when non-compliance fines on operators have been shooting up dramatically, the NAO suggests that it’s not lack of enforcement but rather lack of funding, strategy and indepth research that is holding the UKGC back in its aims to protect gamblers,” she added.

For his part, VIXIO (formerly Gambling Compliance) managing editor Joe Ewens argued that the NAO’s document had “real heft,” but said that any radical changes suggested by the report would “likely wait until the government starts its Gambling Act review.”

“At that point the regulator can expect a thorough going over by the DCMS and is likely to face probing questions from the Department of Health on how effective it has been in protecting British residents from gambling related harm – something the NAO says they are struggling to do,” suggested the former Coinslot editor. “I wouldn’t rule out some pretty serious reorganisation in the long run.”

But for someone who’s seen each incarnation of regulator since the 1990s, and all their flailings, Intergame’s David Snook reflected that the document laid plain the need for “more and better liaison” between the Commission and operators.

“It does not help that the Gambling Commission is seen by the industry as ‘them’ rather than ‘us,’” he remarked. “One appreciates it cannot ever be the latter, but the old Gaming Board managed to have a human side and prided itself on the contact levels it had with the industry and its leaders. That sensitivity seems to have gone.”

And Snook has seen this all before, and yet the message he proffers, oddly so considering that history has continued to repeat itself, still needs to be taken on board. “More and better liaison, and the necessity for all our regulators to observe press crusades with a pinch of salt, would do much.”


Oh, and one more thing…


“The solution that the NAO seems to be pushing for is, as with everything, is to throw more money at the regulator with a ‘review’ of its annual funding of £19m deemed insufficient for all the things that society is expecting the Gambling Commission to do. While a slither of the £3bn in taxes that the gambling industry pays the Treasury each year might go a long way, it’s much more likely that operators will have to put their hands in their pockets directly once again.”


“The problem for our industry is that it is a perpetual target for the national press, the Daily Mail in particular, who love to portray themselves as crusading for the disadvantaged. That leads to a distorted public view of the wider gaming industry and whether that view is just or unjust does not come into the picture when politicians consider the industry. It is also important to remember that problem gamblers are a tiny fraction of all players. This is not to dismiss the impact upon those individuals, but it should all be kept in perspective.”


“It’s fair to say that everyone has accepted that changes are not just inevitable, but necessary, so it now comes down to the scale of these and how they are implemented. While this plays out, we can expect to see the GC move to counter public and political perceptions that it’s too clubby with the industry and that negotiating close to £60m of financial settlements with operators over the past five years has done little to curtail or change their behaviour. So there’s likely to be more fines, even harder sanctions and potentially licence revocations. Key to this will be showing that it works – the NAO noted there was little evidence of enforcement action prompting operators to raise standards, so creating evidence that this is actually effective will be crucial.”


“Whether the government will offer the radical shake-up that the NAO is advocating is another matter entirely at this point, I wouldn’t say it’s likely.”


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