Gambling Commission publishes forward looking strategy report

Neil McArthur National Strategic Assessment report GC
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The regulator’s head Neil McArthur said that the publication of its first ever National Strategic Assessment demonstrated that the watchdog would go “further and faster” than ever before in cracking down on problem gambling.


The Gambling Commission made much of the fact that it has published its first ever “National Strategic Assessment” last week, a document which it intimated would form the bedrock of how it thought about regulation in the coming years.

A statement put out by the regulator claimed that the NSA report was based upon “the latest available evidence…from a wide range of sources and case studies” which allowed it to make the most informed evaluation of the “issues and risks” presented by gambling products to the British public. It went on to add that the NSA essentially laid out the Commission priorities over the coming years – whilst also providing update as to its ongoing initiatives.

“We will use our National Strategic Assessment as the foundation for prioritising our work over the coming months and years,” remarked GC chief executive Neil McArthur. “We look forward to working with the government on the forthcoming review of the Gambling Act and alongside that work we will be working hard to address the issues that we have identified in our Strategic Assessment.”

“We have demonstrated that we are willing and able to respond quickly to emerging issues and risks and that we will use the full range of our powers to protect consumers,” he continued. “We and have made considerable progress in many areas to make gambling safer…but we want to go further and faster.”

Meanwhile, the UKGC talks tough on its latest naughty list

Last week also marked the publication of the Gambling Commission’s yearly Compliance and Enforcement Report – the document in which the watchdog lists all disciplinary action it has taken or is in the process of undertaking: or in its own words, “detailing where the industry needs to raise standards.” Amongst the regulatory action contained within was a markedly increased number (up to 49) of eligibility reviews for people who hold personal licences to operate gambling businesses, a new metric which Commission head Neil McArthur said displayed “how we are shifting our focus towards personal management license holders.”

“Those in boardrooms and senior positions need to live up to their responsibilities and we will continue to hold people to account for failings they knew, or ought to have known, about,” he added.

Meanwhile the report also detail the suspension of five operating licences, the revocation of a further 11 operational licences, and the issuance of 12 financial penalty packages of regulatory settlements – totalling over £30 million.

“Our latest report shows that where licensees fail to meet the standards we expect, we will take tough action, including the suspension and revocation of licences,” McArthur surmised. “Holding an operating licence or a personal licence is a privilege, not a right, and we expect our licensees to protect consumers from harm and treat them fairly.”

What the Gambling Commission said….

“This report outlines the Commission’s assessment of the key issues faced in making gambling fairer, safer and crime free.

We have used our insight, research and casework to assess the risks and challenges in gambling through four different lenses – the Person, the Place, the Products and the Provider. We will continue to develop our assessment to help inform stakeholders. This assessment also sets out our priority actions to enable us to address these issues. We have also included in this document an overview of progress that has been made since April 2019, the start of the last business year.

Evidence tells us that gambling participation is not increasing, but ways of gambling are changing. At an overall level, participation rates have remained stable in recent years. At the same time problem gambling rates are not increasing, the data indicates that the rate of problem gambling has been statistically stable since 2012. Nevertheless, it is important that we continue to develop a robust understanding of how different groups within society, particularly those who are more vulnerable, are experiencing gambling-related harm. The National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms sets out how a public health approach will help identify and reduce these harms.

Risks and issues set out across the four chapters of this assessment include ineffective ‘know your customer’ approaches including affordability checks by operators; the need for early identification and action to at-risk behaviours; the availability of online gambling; advertising; safer online and platform games and the characteristics of high risk products. Other issues highlighted include underage gambling; ownership and governance of gambling providers; and gaps in the evidence and understanding of gambling-related harms. Good regulation is informed by good evidence. We continually seek to improve the evidence base; to have access to better data, to move away from just counting problem gamblers to understand more about specific gambling related harms. We also highlight further research outputs on why people chose to gamble and the benefits they derive from it.

We want industry to do more to understand their customers and end the distinction between regulatory and commercial considerations – that means engaging on big topics like developing credible affordability solutions, making products safer by design and building dynamic player-centric safeguards. We must see the industry doing more to proactively identify and address the risks within their businesses. An approach to raising standards for consumers which is heavily dependent on the Commission using its formal regulatory powers will continue to damage the industry’s reputation, restrict activities and result in escalating penalties.

As a regulator we will do more to demonstrate the impact of our regulation and where we are making progress in changing the behaviours of operators. As such, we will be preparing key metrics to address this.

This assessment has been prepared amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impacts of the pandemic now and moving forward are still being assessed and will shape the gambling industry and its regulation in the years to come.


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