UKGC Reminds Operators to Be Vigilant

CEO of the Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur, has published a reminder to all online operators, urging them to ensure that they maintain rigorous customer protections during the present lockdown. McArthur cited evidence collected last year, that showed the impact of coronavirus restrictions on player behavior.

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Research has found that during the lockdowns of 2020, experienced gamblers faced increased risk of harm. ©AidanHowe/Pixabay

Evidence Shows Lockdown Impact

The Gambling Commission’s “National Strategic Assessment” collates research into the effect of retail closures and increased online casino marketing on players. Whilst there was not a remarkable increase in new gamblers during last year’s first lockdown, analysis showed increased activity from younger people and those who were already engaged gamblers.

Evidence also showed that some consumers spent more time and money on gambling during lockdown. Traffic to online slots and casino games increased, as well as the number of playing sessions that lasted over an hour. Statistics such as these are concerning, because this kind of playing behavior indicates that customers could be at risk of problem gambling.

In his reminder to online operators, McArthur points out that the Gambling Commission has continued to collect monthly data on operators and consumers. The next dataset due to be published will illustrate behavioral trends from last November.

According to the regulator, operators need to be extra vigilant during this lockdown. With much of the population under orders to stay at home, many will be feeling isolated and vulnerable. Financial and personal insecurities will contribute to worries, and for those who already enjoy gambling regularly, the extra time coupled with poor mental health could cause harm. There are also concerns for those who may start gambling for the first time during lockdown.

As sport has been allowed to continue despite the current restrictions, there are still plenty of betting opportunities available to punters. This was not the case last Spring, when the sporting calendar ground to a halt and operators were forced to turn to more novel options to offer betting odds to customers.

Operators Must Act Responsibly

Online operators have been asked to continue to follow the strengthened guidance that the UKGC produced for the first lockdown. Operators should also look closely at how their customers play, and look out for problem indicators, such as increased spend. They should interact with these customers, and must not exploit the pandemic as an opportunity for marketing. Extra care should be taken when accepting new customers, particularly in regards to affordability checks, considering many people are furloughed and financially insecure.

The Gambling Commission has reiterated its commitment to strengthening regulatory requirements, and will continue to closely monitor the actions of consumers and operators, whilst carrying out compliance assessments. Members of the public with concerns about an operator can call the UKGC’s Confidential Intelligence Hotline, or send an email to intelligencereports@gambling

Concluding the open letter to operators, CEO Neil McArthur highlighted once more the main point that the Gambling Commission wishes to convey, that operators must not slack off from their commitments to customer protections. McArthur wrote:

“The gambling industry and daily life as a whole continues to be impacted by the pandemic and whilst there is some light and hope ahead with the vaccine, I want to ensure operators are clear of our expectations. Since March we have all adapted to new ways of working and this new phase will be a challenge for us all. However, operators must now more than ever, continue to be vigilant to protect their customers.”

Updates for Website

The Gambling Commission has also added a brand new section to its website, offering information for the general public over their rights and protections when taking part in gambling. The “Money and Rights” section now appears under the “Public and Players” section on the site.

Visitors to the website can easily browse through guides on opening accounts with gambling sites, how to supply ID verification and how to block gambling transactions. There is also information on player rights, how gambling can affect credit scores and why players can no longer use a credit card to top up gambling accounts.

The “Common Questions” section also answers some of the most frequently asked queries that the Gambling Commission receives. There are answers for such questions as “Why am I being asked for proof of address?” and “How can I stop getting marketing texts and emails?”. By making information on these issues more widely available and accessible, the Gambling Commission aims to safeguard the public from gambling harms.

In addition to this, there is also information on customer fund protection and what to do if a gambling operator goes bust. Customers whose money is tied up in a bankrupt betting site will find that their money falls into one of three categories of protection. It is up to the business to make it clear in their terms and conditions what level of protection they offer, be that none at all, medium or high protection.

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