It is still uncertain whether the Gambling Commission has finally navigated its way towards a policy on Bounce Back loans for arcadians seeking an operating licence. Launched by the government in May 2020, and actually withdrawn from the market in April of this year, BBLs have confounded the regulator during its assessment of licence applications. And so, in many cases, it has reverted to its default position: don’t allow anything. This has left many operators in limbo.
Up until as recently as twelve days ago, there was an operating licence application dating back more than six months still sitting on a Gambling Commission desk waiting to be signed off. And it wasn’t the long tentacles of Covid wrapping itself around the application. This delay was down to something far more fundamental: whether the regulator had finally got its head around a coherent policy on Bounce Back loans taken out by operators.
Some 29 weeks on, for this particular applicant, the answer to that question was yes – eventually. However, there remains other applications currently in the system where delays are extensive and the answers still undetermined.
This confusion and tardy disclosure – more than half a year in the case highlighted – has caused growing disquiet amongst the operational ranks, not least because the government loan scheme was launched 14 months ago and subsequently closed on April Fools Day this year; a timescale, one might say, that is making the Commission itself look somewhat foolish.
In terms of the current crop of applications in the GC pending tray, the latest update from the regulator is that its legal department is looking into the matter. Still.
And yet, the Bounce Back loan question has been in play since May 2020. And a solution, as of today, has not been communicated to the industry – and, presumably, nor to DCMS, the government department which oversees the performance of the regulator.
The lack of progress on this matter will surprise many observers; after all, funding is a central part of licence applications.
Licence approvals require evidence of funding as part of the application procedure, and the Commission places strong emphasis on this element in reference to its AML checks.
In part defence, the Commission will cite inconsistent terms and conditions for BBLS from various banks. However, despite actual and direct confirmation from some major banks to the GC that they do not have T&Cs restricting the use of BBLs, the regulator refused to accept this declaration in its assessment of some licence applications and halted the application process pending further enquiries.
Some consider this heavy-handed, others an abuse of its authority.
Incompetence was another suggestion: on 20 May 2021 acting joint chief executive Sarah Gardner met up with the banking sector during a conference where she gave a keynote speech in which she praised the finance industry for its endeavours in helping to counter problem gambling.
It was the perfect opportunity, albeit one year late, to address the BBLS issue face to face; whether the divergent terms and conditions were raised during this event, or in other direct communication between the banking authorities and the regulator are not known. However, the lack of a solution 14 months on suggests it wasn’t.
And that is leaving many arcadians in limbo.