Gambling Minister calls for operators to ‘step in’ but dismisses £100 affordability checks

Chris Philp, DCMS Gambling Minister, has outlined the government’s strategy to counter gambling related harm, offering an update on the progress of the White Paper on the 2005 Gambling Act review.

Giving a keynote speech entitled ‘Collaboration in the Prevention of Gambling Harms’ at GambleAware’s ninth annual conference, the Minister highlighted the need for a collaborative approach involving various industry stakeholders. 

This would require operators to ‘step in’ when a customer is identified as being at risk of gambling related harm, with the backing of a “robust system to prevent unaffordable online gambling will have a transformative impact”.

However, Philp soothed some industry concerns with regards to affordability checks, agreeing with the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) assessment that enforcing customers spending over £100 to provide payslips or bank statements is “unwelcome, disruptive and disproportionate to the risks”.

Instead, the Minister highlighted the need for both operators and the regulator to effectively leverage data and technology in order to inform whether or not a bettor’s spending justified more intrusive affordability checks. 

“As minister for Digital, I am really keen to explore the role of technology and available data, such as that held by credit reference agencies, to make these sorts of checks work smoothly in a way that is acceptable to customers,” Philp explained.

“At high levels of gambling, more intrusive checks are appropriate. I also want to be clear that checks based on spend and financial circumstances must supplement rather than supersede all the existing requirements on operators to monitor play data, identify risk and intervene accordingly.”

Greater cooperation between operators is also necessary in order to counter gambling related harm, the Minister continued, citing that online gamblers have on average accounts with three betting firms, whilst young people and problem gamblers often have ‘even more’.

“This means that the efforts of individual operators to prevent harm are undermined if a person in the grip of a gambling problem can simply switch to another operator. To me, shoring up our systems to prevent this must be a priority,” he stated.

The Minister’s focus was not just on operators, however, as he argued that players in the financial services space – which have extensive experience of data sharing – must also cooperate with both the gambling industry and the Commission.

“I know there are representatives from industry in the audience today, so I want to be clear in my message; now is the time for you to pick up the gauntlet and work closely with both regulators to develop a system that works.”

Continuing, he added: “I see great promise, therefore, in the development of a Data Repository as a pillar in our work to fill the gaps that still exist in our understanding.”

Moving on to address the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) role in harm prevention, Philp remarked that he wished to see the regulator “excel in holding the industry to account”, before issuing a warning to operators in breach of established rules and requirements.

“The operators who meet and surpass our high standards have nothing to worry about from this. Those who breach the rules do,” the Minister asserted.

“The upcoming White Paper will provide further detail on how we will make sure that the Gambling Commission is equipped to deal with the range of challenges that it faces across the gambling sector today and in the future.”

Lastly, Philp also lauded GAMSTOP’s as an example of how a Single Customer View (SCV) – an approach also promoted by the UKGC – can be used as a gambling harm prevention measure, as well as highlighting the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme’s capitalisation of ‘available technology to do things better’.

Moving forward, the Minister outlined plans for continued collaboration with industry representatives, parliamentary groups, charities and those with lived experience of gambling related harm. He also took time to praise the measures introduced by the UKGC, namely the credit card ban, strict age verification requirements and the regulator’s COVID-era harm prevention measures.

In preparation for its White Paper – due for publication ‘in the coming months’ to set out the government’s vision for the sector – Philp detailed that over 16,000 submissions have been received as part of the DCMS call for evidence.

Concluding his speech, the Gambling Minister said: “Today I have outlined just a few of the areas where I see great promise to make our gambling regulation fit for the digital age, particularly using data and technology. Of course, there will be much more to come in our white paper.

“I would like to again congratulate Gamble Aware on organising this conference and I hope together we can continue this collaborative approach to tackling gambling related harm.”

Reacting to the Minister’s comments, Zoe Osmund, GambleAware CEO, welcomed the government’s plans to uphold industry standards and implement a form of affordability check along with a single customer view and a data repository.

The CEO stated: “We are also pleased to hear that the government endorses stronger collaboration between treatment providers, policymakers, and the industry in supporting those at risk of experiencing gambling harms. 

“We have long called for a whole system approach to addressing the prevalence of gambling harms in Great Britain, as the only way to comprehensively support those in need.

“We welcome the Minister’s confirmation that the Government is reviewing the funding model for treatment, prevention and research. We have been consistently clear that mandatory funding is the only way to ensure that support to address gambling harms gets the resource required.”

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