Tim Miller, the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) Executive Director of Research and Statistics, has presented the findings of the first ‘National Strategic Assessment’ which assesses the Commission’s response to risks and duties.
The assessment was framed on the evidence of four key elements comprising: the person gambling, the places where gambling occurs, the products available to customers and the provider of facilities for gambling.
Miller underlined that the UKGC’s assessment was undertaken with ‘best available evidence’ and accounted for ongoing COVID-19 impacts on customer habits.
Spanning three years, the Commission’s assessment has been conducted concurrently with notable changes and developments in gambling policies, protections, treatment and research.
Miller commented: “Amongst the debate around gambling, it often gets forgotten that a lot of progress has been made over the last three years.”
The assessment recognised that problem gambling is now identified as a public health issue and so ‘needs a public health approach,’ and that this wasn’t universally accepted three years ago.
The authority also understood the need for those with lived experience of problem gambling to have their voices heard. To meet this requirement, the UKGC carried the support of a ‘Lived Experience Advisory Panel’ to aid with research and policy development.
The group stated: “We were amongst the first voices to make the arguments that Gambling Harms should be recognised as a Public Health issue and adopted a public health approach when we published the first-ever National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms in 2019.”
Although progress was made, the UKGC remarked that it is facing ‘risks that are dynamic’ which have changed the make-up and profile of those affected by problem gambling.
Miller highlighted the shift by UK consumers to online gambling, which, before covid restrictions, had grown to more than 50% of Gross Gambling Yield (excluding prizes).
The digital take up of UK gambling has changed the risk profile of consumers, with a ‘move towards more intense products, such as slots and in-play betting’.
Further risks are managed as the UK gambling sector has been radically changed by a series of mergers and acquisitions, which have brought over safety implications as ‘compliance work has seen that time taken to integrate different systems and approaches can disadvantage customers in terms of safer gambling and customer experience’.
In response to changing online risks, the UKGC has systematically ramped up its compliance enforcement actions by issuing over £90m in penalty packages since 2017/18, as well as revoking 10 operator licences.
The Commission also imposed stringent operator requirements on player ID and verification, as well as prohibiting gambling via credit cards. Furthermore, GAMSTOP had been commissioned as the compulsory ‘multi-operator exclusion scheme’ for online gambling.
During 2020, the NSA strategy was drastically altered to account for COVID-19 temporary enforcements which were applied on online gambling operators, all of which were ordered to review deposit thresholds, affordability checks and customer care interventions.
Even after meeting its compliance objectives, Miller emphasised that the UKGC needed to be better able to support its four key research elements related to UK gambling.
The Commission has hence launched directives that focus on developing a ‘single customer view’ of UK gambling, providing stakeholders with a ‘full picture’ of customer interactions with risks and harms.
Miller stated: “A Single Customer View could dramatically help reduce harm and that is why we will not accept progress at the pace of the slowest on this work.”
All-round improvements had seen the UK’s rate of problem gambling in 2020 reach a four year low of 0.3% (0.6% in 2019, 0.5% in 2018, 0.6% in 2017 and 0.7% in 2016).
He added: “Over the last five years, it does appear that there is an emerging trend showing a decline in overall rates of problem gambling.”
Miller also addressed the increased political scrutiny felt by both the Commission and the gambling industry as a whole throughout 2020.
He commented: “Now I said I would return to the increased political interest and scrutiny that gambling and our work has received in recent years.”
“As a statutory regulator, it is right that we are scrutinised and held to account for how we deliver the licensing objectives and we know that different groups may have very different views about how our role should be performed.
“In particular, we welcome greater interest from Parliament in making gambling safer. Whether that interest is long-held, came from concerns over FOBTs or is yet more recent, we welcome the diversity of interest and perspective that this greater scrutiny brings.”
Moving forward into 2021, Miller outlined the UKGC’s objectives for further enhancing Britain’s safer gambling standards.
Proposed measures include the outright ban of features that speed up play or give the illusion of control over an outcome, slot spin speeds faster than 2.5 seconds, auto-play modes and sounds or imagery which give the illusion of a win when returns are equal to or lower than the stake.
The Commission’s Business Plan and Corporate Strategy for the year will be published in the spring, where the authority’s focus on making gambling ‘safer, fairer and crime free’ will be further clarified.
Miller concluded: “We are working hard to make Great Britain the safest place to gamble in the world and we need you all to work with us to achieve that outcome.
“We recognise the unprecedented pressures on businesses and we know that some operators have been forced to make tough decisions to keep businesses and jobs viable in recent months.
“But even through the turbulence of the pandemic, progress is being made in making gambling safer. The evidence is suggesting that we are on the right track. So let’s keep on going together.”
Earlier this month, the UKGC published its new consumer guidance campaign, providing the general public with a full breakdown of the gambling block services currently available at high street and digital banks.