No leeway for operators, states Commission

Neil McArthur Gambling Commission
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While an ill-equipped UK government plays catch-up against Coronavirus, and businesses across the country make tough decisions to save jobs and cut costs, the Gambling Commission has raised its expectations and is ready to fine operators that don’t comply.


As a woefully unprepared world attempts to clamp down on the fast-spreading Coronavirus, the Gambling Commission is threatening to clamp down on the industry.

Like most businesses, online operators, many of whom rely on sports betting for a large portion of their revenue, are currently focussing on keeping their staff employed and their businesses afloat. This will include keeping up to standards on self-responsibility, however as the regulated industry scrambles to stay in business, the Gambling Commission appears to be temporarily raising these standards further – with punishments for those who can’t comply.

“As you know, the social distancing measures that have been imposed this week now mean that anyone other than key workers will be at home for most of the day. We are already seeing reports of an increase in online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports. In light of these developments, whilst I recognise the enormous challenges businesses are facing, I want to make the Commission’s expectations absolutely clear,” CEO Neil McArthur wrote to operators.

While his long list of requests included many familiar faces, such as “consumer protection must be paramount” and “compliance with licence conditions and codes of practice”, there were also some newcomers.

“We expect you to be very mindful that customers may be vulnerable and experiencing financial uncertainty, whilst others may be experiencing other effects of being isolated including, for example, feelings of anxiety, loneliness or boredom,” wrote McArthur. “You must not exploit the current situation for marketing purposes and should be very cautious when seeking to cross-sell online gaming products to customers who signed up with you in order to bet.”

This puts operators in a very difficult position. Sportsbetting, their bread and butter, is off the menu, and the Gambling Commission doesn’t want them to advertise the only products they are currently able to sell. Meanwhile, the Commission suggests operators be mindful of those who are bored – which as a form of entertainment, is the industry’s target audience. Cutting through the regulatory lingo, the message to online operators is clear: Don’t market the products you can sell, and don’t market them to a significant part of your target audience. Or the Commission will fine your business and finish what Coronavirus started.

“If we see irresponsible behaviour we will step in immediately,” concluded McArthur. “So, whilst I know that the current climate is unprecedented, gambling operators must play their part in making sure that people are kept safe.”

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