New guidance and safeguarding measures have been issued by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) which aim to further protect consumers during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
Following the emergence of new evidence which stated that certain gamblers may be at risk of greater harm during the lockdown period, the Commission has said that tighter measures will be needed.
With protecting the most vulnerable atop the list of priorities, the UKGC has made it clear that operators must prevent reverse withdrawals and stop bonuses for those displaying indicators of harm. Furthermore, the regulator has also informed operators that more stringent affordability checks are now expected.
In its decision, the UKGC pointed to research carried out by YouGov which found that while gambling participation has fallen, reflecting the closure of land-based venues and the postponement of sports, consumer gambling habits have changed as a result of COVID-19.
A statement released by the UKGC read: “The shift in the market as a result of Covid-19 evidence shows an increase in the use of certain gambling products such as online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports.”
Moreover, concerns have also been raised by government officials due to the fact that YouGov research has revealed that ‘64% of more engaged gamblers’ are spending either more time or money on online gambling activity – including National Lottery products
As a result of the potential risks vulnerable players are facing during lockdown, the new UKGC guidelines now demand that all online operators carry out additional requirements as soon as possible. These include:
- Stopping all reverse withdrawal options for customers until further notice
- Ceasing bonus offers and promotions to all customers displaying ‘harm indications’.
- Requiring direct interaction with all customer that have participated in ‘an hour single session of play’
- Reviewing safer gambling thresholds and triggers for new customers
- Conducting further affordability checks on players displaying harm indications
- Enforcing immediate deposit limits and blocks on customers displaying harmful behaviour.
- Ensuring comprehensive monitoring of customer base – identifying dangerous play and spending habits.
Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur stated: “Operators must use the data they hold to protect their customers and now, more than ever, it’s vital that online operators really know their customers by monitoring how long they are playing for and understanding how financial uncertainty is impacting them and what they can afford to gamble with.
“To ensure operators do that, we are strengthening our guidance and expect operators to take account of that to prevent bonus offers or inducements being offered to customers who are showing any sign of harm.
“Work was already underway to address many of these issues but this means we will now accelerate this work due to the unique situation that many consumers will find themselves in during lockdown.
“We will continue to monitor and publish the data that we are collecting and we will take further measures if required. We are monitoring online operators closely and if we see irresponsible behaviour we will step in immediately, suspending licences if we need to.”
The new measures, which have been approved by the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport, are set to be followed shortly by new plans by the Commission regarding possible permanent additional targeted player protection steps.
Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sports, Tourism and Heritage, concluded: “It is vital that people are protected from the threat of gambling related harm and I welcome these latest steps from the Gambling Commission. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will not hesitate to take further action if required.”