The Gambling Commission has told UK betting firms to introduce a series of tighter measures to protect problem gamblers during lockdown.
UK.- The Gambling Commission (UKGC) has outlined a series of new stricter measures for online betting firms to follow in order to protect problem gamblers during the Covid-19 crisis.
The new guidance covers affordability checks, prevention of reverse withdrawals and restrictions on bonus offers.
It says the measures are needed to protect vulnerable gamblers during lockdown despite new figures showing that overall gambling was down.
The regulator has told firms to carry out stricter affordability checks, and to check in on customers who have been playing for over an hour in a single session.
It also told firms to prevent the reversal of withdrawals until further notice and to stop bonuses for users who display indicators of harm. The new guidance can be seen in full here.
The new guidance comes as YouGov surveys show that overall gambling in the UK fell in March as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, and that only a small number of people started to gamble for the first time.
The majority of players in the surveys responded that they had not increased the time or money they spent on gambling, but the Commission found evidence of a possible increase in problem gambling because two thirds (64 per cent) of more engaged gamblers reported to have increased the time or money spent on at least one online gambling activity.
The data also shows an overall decrease in the average length of play, but an increase in the number of sessions played for over an hour.
It shows signs of a shift towards online slots (up 25 per cent in March), online poker (up 38 per cent), and betting on virtual sports (up 40 per cent).
Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, 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.
“We are monitoring online operators closely and if we see irresponsible behaviour we will step in immediately, suspending licences if we need to.”
Online operators are expected to make changes to act on the new guidance as soon as possible. Although the changes are being introduced to protect vulnerable players during lockdown, the Commission has left open the possibility that some measures may become permanent.
The UKGC will open a consultation later in the month to propose strengthened measures around ethical product design, including reverse withdrawals and VIP inducements.
Last month the Gambling Commission introduced a ban on credit card payments for online betting.