In the wake of published material revealing new evidence regarding an increased risk of harm to gamblers as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Gambling Commission has now issued fresh guidelines for online operators.
The new guidance follows on from data published by the Commission showing the impact that Covid-19 is having on consumers and the industry so far. This data, which was collected through the gambling industry and also through YouGov surveys, shows that during lockdown gambling participation is down overall.
However, while there is no evidence to suggest an increase in problem gambling, the shift in the market as a result of COVID-19 has shown an increase in the use of certain gambling products such as online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports.
Gambling Commission Chief Executive Neil McArthur said: “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 Commission has reviewed its current guidance in light of the risks that some players may be experiencing harm while in lockdown, and online operators must now take account
of the Commission’s additional guidance, which makes clear they should:
- Prevent reverse withdrawal options for customers until further notice
- Cease to offer bonuses or promotions to all customers who are displaying indicators of harm
- Interact with customers who have been playing for an hour in a single session of play
- Review thresholds and triggers for new customers to reflect the operator’s lack of knowledge of that individual’s play and spend patterns
- Conduct affordability assessments for individuals picked up by existing or new thresholds and triggers which indicate consumers experiencing harm – limiting or blocking further play until those checks have been concluded and supporting evidence obtained
- Implement processes that ensure the continual monitoring of their customer base – identifying patterns of play, spend or behaviours have changed in recent weeks.
Online operators are now expected to make changes to act on this guidance as soon as possible, with the Commission set to bring forward plans to consult on whether further targeted player protection measures are required on a permanent basis.