by James Harrison
Yesterday the Gambling Commission published an update with regards to the Remote Customer Interaction Consultation, which was fascinating as much in what it didn’t say as what it did.
A quick bit of background:
In 2019 the Commission introduced their “customer interaction guidance” which marked a real step up of the safer gambling obligations placed on operators. In the guidance the Commission outlined that they expected operators to make considerable efforts to identify and interact with customers that were experiencing or were at risk of experiencing gambling harm.
You only need to read the Commission’s last two enforcement reports to see that many operators have failed to meet the standards required. One common criticism levelled at the industry by the Commission has been that customers’ gambling activity had not been properly assessed in the context of their personal financial circumstances. Consequently the Commission indicated that, amongst other things, they were considering imposing thresholds at which so called “affordability checks” should take place and they therefore embarked on a consultation and call for evidence.
We should of course remember that this is taking place in the context of the ongoing review of the Gambling Act which is likely to bring its own seismic change – including possibly some pertaining to the form and nature of the gambling regulator itself.
Key points from yesterday’s update:
1. The “next steps” section gives us the best steer as to potential outcomes. It is clear that the Commission is convinced that “stronger requirements are needed” and in all likelihood this will be either updated guidance and/or a new licence condition.
2. The velocity or speed at which customers incur losses is likely to be a trigger point for action although it is significant that they use the words “many thousands of pounds” which suggests the bar may be set higher than some in the industry fear.
3. It is also clear they will expect extra scrutiny of customers that accumulate large losses more slowly so this suggests they may expect thresholds to be established that are purely based on cumulative volume of losses.
4. Perhaps most intriguingly they also set out an expectation for extra care and attention “Where information is available that shows when customers are particularly financially vulnerable and likely to be harmed by their level of gambling”. A particularly nuanced statement likely to frustrate some who have called for greater clarity, but to my mind indicates that there is likely to be a requirement for some kind of affordability screening at an early stage in each customer relationship. What this means in practice is unclear, but this could be something as simple as demographic profiling of customers and the use of publicly available data (for example ONS household income statistics).
Full publication of the results of the consultation along with any attendant requirements is expected this summer for which the industry waits with bated breath!
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