Every operation has been impacted by Covid. But when an organisation insists on every stakeholder meeting its deadlines on fear of penalty, yet it blatantly fails to meet its own, questions need to be asked. That’s the position the UK regulator finds itself in. The “Gambling Commission is in a mess” argues one licence specialist, and it’s the land-based sector that is paying the price.
The Gambling Commission is coming under increasing pressure from landbased businesses to get its act together. Reports of companies having to wait up to three months before a case worker starts to process their application for an Operating Licence have been surfacing. The GC’s own self-imposed deadline for processing operating licence applications had already been extended from eight weeks to 16 weeks back in 2017; this particular company is likely to see its application take 20 weeks plus to process.
In another instance brought to Coinslot’s attention, an application to deal with a simple transfer of control within a small family owned business has taken eight weeks before an acknowledgment of the application was sent by the Commission. In that correspondence, the GC said that the application was still “awaiting allocation to a case worker.” For a business where all the parties are already known to the Commission the process should take a maximum of twelve weeks, but now, it could take as long as 20 weeks to approve.
According to the Commission, the delays are a result of a “reprioritisation” of management resources due to Covid. At the same time, the majority of GC staff are currently working from home, and in the instances of home-schooling requirements, further time restrictions are in place.
“We get the Covid-related issues,” one industry figure noted when asked about their response to the licence application delays. “The Gambling Commission is no different to everyone else in the country – we are all facing the same Covid issues. What is different though, and this is where the Commission’s behaviour is unacceptable, is that it remains extremely aggressive in its response to industry requests to extend deadlines for licence payments and renewals. Remember, our businesses are shut and cannot operate, and many aren’t eligible for government support; but we’ll get fined or lose our licences if we miss a deadline. The Commission, on the other hand, feels it can hide behind Covid when it misses its own statutory defined deadlines. That can’t be right.”
The grievances are widespread and increasingly hostile; the Gambling Commission’s growing publicity-hungry pronouncements of fines and penalties – this week alone there were five for AML technicalities by casinos – are serving to overshadow its own administrative failings.
While the strong arm of the regulator is flamboyantly conducting an orchestra, its weak arm is barely turning the pages.
The licensing backlog is causing considerable anxiety; businesses currently in the application queue simply cannot operate. Licensing specialist Debbie Bollard has processed hundreds of licence applications for industry clients over the past thirteen years, and she has expressed strong concerns at the Gambling Commission’s pace of activity. “The current position with regard to licence applications is extremely worrying,” she told Coinslot. “I also have clients who have been waiting months for the Commission to provide updates on their applications. The procedures at the Commission are arduous at the best of times. But it has a statutory duty to meet its obligations within reasonable timescales, and in many cases currently, they’ve almost reached their own deadlines before even looking at the application. For so many small family businesses, this is their livelihood on the line. The idea of waiting five or six months for a licence that was originally intended to be granted within 8 weeks, and that now you would expect in less than 16 weeks, is destructive and costly.”