UK government publishes scathing operator responses to Gambling Act review

The Gambling Commission came in for criticism in operators
The Gambling Commission came in for criticism in operators

The government has published the written evidence submitted to its review of gambling legislation.

UK.- As the industry waits for the UK government’s gambling white paper, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has just published the written responses to the legislative review’s call for evidence. And some of them have harsh things to say about the UK gambling regulator.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) began its review of the 2005 Gambling Act back in 2020. Part of the review involved a committee inquiry call for written evidence, which received 91 individual responses.

The written evidence shows the extent of conflicting opinions about the gambling sector, with a wide range of diverse responses from stakeholders that range from gambling operators and lobby groups to The British Medical Association, The Christian Institute, Channel 4, Citizens Advice, UK Hospitality and Bournemouth University.

They responded to the questions “what is the scale of gambling-related harm?”, “what should the key priorities be in the white paper?” and “how broadly should the term ‘gambling’ be defined?”. The other questions were whether it is “possible for a regulator to stay abreast of innovation in the online sphere?” and “what additional problems arise when online gambling companies are based outside of UK jurisdiction?”. 

Industry groups that responded include the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), the amusement hall trade association Bacta, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the Lotteries Council. Individual operators including Flutter Entertainment, 888 Holdings, bet365, Bally’s Corporation and Metropolitan Gaming also responded, and many had negative things to say about the British Gambling Commission, which regulates the sector.

Criticism of the Gambling Commission

Flutter was one of the most critical in its response, raising “concerns about the general consultation process used by the Gambling Commission”. It said it had taken a lot of time to respond to Gambling Commission consultations, going beyond the requested evidence but that it felt its feedback was rarely reflected in the results.

“It is even rarer for the Gambling Commission to provide feedback on our response so that, for example, we can understand why our evidence was not seemingly taken into account in that final outcome,” it added.

It argued that the British regulator had on a “consistent basis seriously underestimated the complexity of the technology operated by licensees”. It called for “iterative discussions” in the future and for the Gambling Commission to give adequate time for consultations and “reasonable timeframes for implementation of any regulatory changes”.

Meanwhile, Entain said the Gambling Commission would be more successful if it “adopted a cooperative rather than confrontational approach”. It even laid out a list of eleven proposals that it says could improve the way the Gambling Commission operates.

These include a suggestion that the regulator recruits people from the industry, that it has regulatory initiatives independently tested against the risk of customers leaving the licensed market and that the commission regulates in “a predictable and transparent manner”. It said that should include publishing a list of penalty fees for various offences.

The US gaming giant Bally’s also criticised the regulator. It said the Gambling Commission tended to adopt “population-wide measures that do not consider emerging technologies that improve the confidence level of targeted regulation”.

Affordability checks

Another area that attracted many comments from the industry was the question of affordability checks, which have been much debated throughout the review. The white paper is expected to include some form of soft affordability check, or “financial risk check”, as former gambling minister Paul Scully considered them.

Entain warned that these could push people to the black market, citing data from a survey that suggested one in three would consider moving to unlicensed casino operators. Flutter complained that there was “a lack of clarity” over how unobtrusive affordability checks would work.

It said: “We strongly believe that operators are the best people to manage the customer relationship and we encourage the government to look to build on our existing data and risk-based approaches to customer protection.”

See also: UK MP says gambling white paper must support rural communities

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