GC pledges regulatory changes by September 2020

1 April 2020

The British Gambling Commission has set out five key priorities for its 2020-21 financial year, and revealing that it will aim to introduce new regulatory requirements by the end of the year's second quarter, which ends on 30 September, 2020.

The regulator's business plan, published on the first day of the new financial year (1 April), sees the Commission set out its priorities for the coming year. It aims to continue to protect the interests of consumers, and prevent both players and the general public suffer from gambling-related harm. It also aims to raise standards in the market, optimise returns to good causes from lotteries, and to improve the way to governs the market.

“We begin a new financial year in extraordinary circumstances, the [novel coronavirus (Covid-19)] will bring significant challenges for us all, including the gambling industry," Commission chief executive Neil McArthur (pictured) said. "With social distancing measures in place people are more likely to feel isolated and now more than ever operators must ensure that consumer safety is paramount."

Perhaps the most eye-catching pledge, as part of efforts to protect consumers' interests, is the commitment to introducing new regulatory requirements "where appropriate" by the end of the second quarter. This would be by 30 September. This followed Commission chief executive Neil McArthur pledging a review of online slot stakes within six months at a hearing of the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in February this year.

This will take into account the findings of working groups established to assess industry challenges, such as VIP management, product design and advertising. A series of leading operators and suppliers are involved in these projects, including Playtech, Scientific Games, GVC Holdings and The Stars Group-owned Sky Betting and Gaming.

The regulator will also advise Oliver Dowden,  Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, on the government’s planned review of the 2005 Gambling Act. However, with the scope and scale of the review yet to be determined, it was unable to offer a timescale for this element.

“We look forward to supporting the Government’s planned review of the Gambling Act,” McArthur said. “We are already working hard to take account of the findings of the recent National Audit Office report into gambling regulation.”

To prevent harm, the regulator said it would establish an ‘experts by experience’ advisory board, consisting of people who have experience of gambling-related harm, by the end of the second quarter.

“Their advice will ensure that the voice of consumers, particularly those who have experienced harm, more fully informs decisions at the heart of our organisation,” McArthur explained.

The Commission will also publish an evaluation of its actions to minimise harm to children and review its approach to measuring gambling participation and prevalence. Both of these goals are to be achieved by the end of the financial year, or March 31, 2021.

“Gambling related harm must be drastically reduced,” McArthur added. “If operators cannot protect their customers from harm then we are ready and willing to act, if necessary, using our powers to suspend and revoke operating and personal licences.”

In order to raise standards in the gambling market, the Commission pledged to take targeted action to improve standards in the remote gambling sector throughout the year, delivering a series of events and initiatives to support the roll-out of these new actions.

“Despite the challenges we all face, we must continue to make progress in these areas and wherever possible take opportunities to make gambling safer, especially online,” McArthur said. “We want to support collaboration and reduce the risk of progress being held up by the slowest, the least willing or the lowest common denominator.”

The regulator also promised to protect against threats to betting integrity for international sports events hosted in Great Britain, and to implement the EU’s 5th Money Laundering Directive before the end of the year.

As part of its pledge to optimise returns to good causes from lotteries, the Commission said it would respond to current National Lottery Camelot’s strategy to increase these returns. The regulator said it would also publish its conclusions following a consultation on prize limits to society lotteries during the second quarter of the year.

The tender for the next National Lottery licence, meanwhile, will begin in the second quarter, or before 30 June. The process was originally scheduled to start in March, before the Commission and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport revised this to the first half of the calendar year.

“A major priority this year will be running a robust, fair and open competition for the next National Lottery licence,” McArthur said. “With the current licence ending in 2023, we are focussed on finding the right operator, who will innovate to engage players and protect them, run the National Lottery with integrity and continue maximising returns to good causes to benefit society.”

In order to improve the way it regulates, the Gambling Commission said it would establish the case for changes to Gambling Commission fees and offer advice to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on a possible reform to the current structure.

For the 2020-21 year, the Commission expects the betting industry to be its largest source of income, contributing 31% in licence fees. Casinos follow are next at 29%, followed by gambling software suppliers at 16%.

Gaming machine suppliers and lotteries are both expected to contribute 7%, arcades 6% and bingo 4%.

In addition, the regulator said it would publish clearer documentation about its corporate governance process by the midpoint of the year and improve the licence application process by the year’s end.

McArthur also added that the Commission will get tougher in 2020-21 when it comes to acting against those who violate terms of the licence conditions, codes of practice and guidance.

“People are only granted a licence following a detailed investigation into their suitability and we make our expectations very clear through licence conditions, codes of practice and guidance,” McArthur said. “Our compliance assessments will ensure that licensees comply with both the letter and spirit of the regulations.

“Those who fail to meet our expectations will find our approach to enforcement getting even tougher than it has been to date.”

The regulator acknowledged that the ongoing novel coronavirus (Covid-19) situation may make it difficult to achieve some of its goals, and so a revised plan may be issued after it reviews the first quarter of the year.