UKGC Brings out New Lockdown Guidance

The Gambling Commission has issued new guidance for online operators, in response to evidence that some gamblers are facing increased risk of harm during the coronavirus lockdown. New measures include improved affordability checks, restrictions on bonus offers and prevention of reverse withdrawals. The new regulatory guidance is based on collected data investigating the impact of the COVID-19 on the gambling industry and consumers.

Person using a laptop at home.

The UKGC’s new guidance is aimed at online operators, following the rise in players at online casinos during the lockdown. ©Christin Hume/Unsplash

New Evidence Shows Impact of COVID-19

The UK regulator’s new guidance to online operators follows the publication of new data collected through the industry and through YouGov surveys. According to the new figures, gambling participation is down overall. Lockdown measures brought in to combat the coronavirus pandemic mean that betting shops, casinos and bingo halls have had to close their doors. On top of this, cancelled sporting events have left bookies with few wagering opportunities to offer.

Evidence collected by the Commission shows that very few people have taken up gambling for the first time during the lockdown. However, despite fewer people gambling, there is still significant cause for concern. There has been a noticeable shift in the market, with visible growth in the use of online casinos. Web-based gambling products, such as slots, table games and virtual sports have seen a growing number of players during the lockdown.

While more players may be good news for the industry, there have been worries over how much time participants are spending gambling online. According to the Gambling Commission’s new figures, most gamblers say that they have not spent more money or time gambling during the lockdown. However, 64% of more engaged gamblers reported the opposite – that they had spent more time or money gambling online.

Someone is considered to be an engaged gambler if they have gambled with three or more products over the course of four weeks. The Commission’s data shows that 8% of those who have gambled during the last four weeks are engaged gamblers. The new data also shows that overall session lengths have decreased. However, there has also been a rise in the number of sessions that are played for more than an hour.

Tighter Rules to Protect Players Online

In response to the new evidence, the Gambling Commission has reviewed existing guidance, as well as issued new guidance to online operators. The new measures aim to minimize the risk of harm for gamblers during lockdown. Operators have been advised to implement the changes as soon as possible. The Gambling Commission has also said that it will bring forward plans to decide on whether targeted player protection measures should be kept on permanently.

“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”Neil McArthur, Chief Executive, Gambling Commission

Under the new guidance, operators can no longer offer customers reverse withdrawals, until further notice. Operators have previously allowed customers the option to reverse a request to withdraw funds if they decide they want to continue gambling with that money. This facility practice has faced criticism, as it means that customers can play for longer without taking a break or spend more than they initially planned to. Using reverse withdrawals can be seen as a red flag for gambling harms.

Operators should also stop offering bonuses and promotions to any customers who exhibit indicators of harm. Customers who play sessions lasting for an hour will need to be interacted with, to make sure that they are gambling responsibly. Operators will need to monitor their customers continually and look out for changes in spending and playing patterns as well as other behavior changes.

Operators should review thresholds and triggers for new players, to get a more accurate picture of their play and spending patterns. Customers who are found to be experiencing harms should have affordability checks made on them. Until those checks are completed and supporting evidence is provided, the customer’s play should be limited or blocked altogether.

“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 behavior we will step in immediately, suspending licenses if we need to.”

Later this month the Gambling Commission is also due to consult on ethical product design, reverse withdrawals and VIP Inducements. The Commission’s chief executive, Neil McArthur, wrote to online operators at the beginning of the lockdown in late March, reminding them to stick to consumer protection responsibilities. The regulator also channeled £9 million to GambleAware, to combat gambling harms earlier this month.

“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.”Nigel Huddleston, Tourism Minister, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

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