Andrew Rhodes: White Paper delay not an excuse to avoid tackling problems

The White Paper on the 2005 Gambling Act review has been highly anticipated for some time now, with a government announcement expected earlier this spring.

With reports circulating in the press as to the result of the over one-and-a-half year-long process, UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) CEO Andrew Rhodes issued an update on progress whilst addressing the Westminster Media Forum Gambling Regulation Conference yesterday.

Stating that the White Paper is ‘getting closer’, Rhodes maintained that despite the delay on the Gambling Act judgement operators should not ‘just hold their breath and wait’ – adding that the UKGC will not accept the wait as ‘an excuse not to tackle problems now’.

“We don’t accept that, we don’t accept that anything should come before making sure you are trading as fair and as safe as possible,” he asserted. “All the rest should be secondary.

“I have to believe it is possible to have a successful and innovative gambling industry that provides something its consumers want but can do so in a responsible way, eradicating the inexcusable excesses we still see today, and expanding the good practice we also see.

“For those operators who understand this, we will continue to work with them towards that shared goal. To anyone else offering gambling to consumers in Great Britain, whether with a licence or not, then I’m afraid that is the time when the House always loses.”

Before issuing this warning to the UK betting space, Rhodes also identified some key areas for concern for the Commission over the past year – in particular, pointing to the ‘gamblification’ of products that are not covered by current legislation. 

Video game loot boxes were again raised in particular – an area which has been highlighted by gambling harm minimisation groups such as YGAM and EPIC Risk Management – as well as emerging assets such as NFTs, crypto products and ‘synthetic shares’. 

He continued: “So overall, when we look at today’s gambling market, we see an incredibly energetic and innovative industry, one that is still grappling with the effects of the pandemic, which is still looking for areas to grow. 

“But one that still has the potential to cause great harm. And in the unregulated spaces around it, we see too many hangers-on, trying to make a quick buck from the harm they cause.”

Lastly, whilst acknowledging that the UK’s problem gambling rate has fallen, Rhodes maintained that the figure still represents hundreds of thousands at risk of or suffering from harm, requiring a need for the Commission and operators to make more efficient use of data. 

He also noted that the UKGC is still seeing ‘far too many examples of operators’ failing to operate by regulatory standards and making mistakes, with such examples ‘from small and local to the big four’ and covering both the land-based and online sectors.

This argument has been previously outlined by Gambling Minister Chris Philp, who stated in March that there are “too many cases of operators failing to meet their duties to protect people’, referring to the UKGC’s then-recent £9.4 million fine against 888 Holdings.

“Those examples are all recent,” Rhodes asserted. “All since we published our last Compliance and Enforcement report last year. And we see more in many assessments. That’s not good enough. And it’s not sustainable either.”

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