As the review of the 2005 Gambling Act makes its way through the various stages of parliamentary proceedings, there is one thing on everyone’s mind: will the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) enforce the changes that the gambling industry really needs? Or will the industry’s current stigma bring about unwanted reform?
With the findings of the review and a revamped Gambling Act due to arrive in the latter part of this year, one of the topics which finds itself in the spotlight is affordability – something which W2’s Business Development Manager Elliot Shaw is spending considerable time on to help operators deploy the necessary procedures to best protect bettors.
Reflecting on when they first joined W2, Shaw said: “When I joined W2 my first key focus was speaking to UK gambling operators about affordability. Almost every operator I reached out to wanted to talk.
“The industry is littered with people who care passionately about responsible gambling, protecting the vulnerable and making sure their profits are not derived from people who can’t afford to lose what they spend.
“At W2, we are doing everything possible to ensure that Gambling operators have the best procedures possible for those operators actually concerned with player protection, despite the lack of clarity on what to do, to enable them to honestly say they are doing all possible to prevent problem gambling and keep their players safe from spending more than they can afford.”
So what might any sweeping changes mean for the gambling industry? According to Shaw, the government’s assessment of the industry must ensure that it safeguards those players who are more susceptible to problem gambling, while also protecting the wider public. From the outset, however, this looks like it may be a difficult balancing act.
“You must also think about the overwhelming majority of people that gamble responsibly – these people are not offended by sporting icons becoming ‘brand Ambassadors’, free bets and advertising.
“The current stigma surrounding the gambling industry coupled with the manner in which it’s become the pressing cultural hot potato brings with it a real problem that the Gambling Reform Act is going to be ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ and end up not protecting the wider public.
“But then of course, some operators clearly don’t help themselves. You hear story after story about customers slipping through the net and losing fortunes, yet it seems operators have robust procedures in place to ensure profitable accounts are closed or restricted in days.”
Cracking down on these rogue operators is, therefore, one of the major issues that must be tackled within the review. However, it is not realistic should the government fail to consider the regulatory powers – or lack thereof – of the UK Gambling Commission.
The UKGC doesn’t ‘have the teeth’ it needs’ to truly prevent instances of non-compliance across the gambling industry, said Shaw, unless this includes the handing out of fines.
He explained: “I really don’t profess to be an expert on this subject matter but my take on this Gambling Reform Act is this; the Gambling Commission already outlines key expectations it puts on UK operators to act responsibly – both from an affordability perspective and a compliance & AML perspective.
“The guidance on understanding potential vulnerable customers and markers of harm is clearly laid out in the LCCP already. The expectations on AML obligations & protecting children are all there to see as well.
“The issue isn’t that this stuff isn’t already known, the issue appears to be that the Gambling Commission doesn’t have the teeth it needs to enforce foul play in the industry and go further than fines.
“In the grand scheme of things, these fines don’t impact operators enough to force them to radically change their procedures and ensure that player protection and responsible gambling is actually at the heart of their priority list.”
He continued by explaining that this small minority of ‘bad’ operators will only start to act in accordance with the guidance set out by the UKGC once the regulator can follow through on the revocation of licences.
Understandably, the ways in which the UKGC should act is quite tricky to get your head around. To simplify the changes needed, Shaw drew upon an unlikely closing comparison with…golf.
“I’m a golfer so I’ll bore you with a golfing analogy; slow play is crippling the game at present. Fining multi-millionaires isn’t going to deter slow players from playing slow, only disqualifications will drive the right behaviour. It’s the exact same thing in the gambling sector – ‘bad’ operators are only going to start taking serious note when licenses are taken away.
“We are still sitting patiently waiting for the Gambling Act Review 2021 to be announced and come into play, but clearly change needs to happen. And it needs to happen now.”