UK licensees urged to ramp up consumer protection focus

29 April 2019

The Gambling Commission for England, Scotland and Wales, and UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have published a letter calling for operators to pay closer attention to consumer protection law to ensure players are treated fairly.

Distributed to licensees across the UK, the letter comes after a joint Gambling Commission-CMA study into suspected breaches of consumer protection law in the remote gambling sector.

The two regulatory bodies say they have identified “significant shortcomings within the sector that had undermined consumer trust and confidence”, relating to fairness, transparency and potential for consumers to be misled by terms and practices for online bonuses and the withdrawal of funds.

Ladbrokes, William Hill, PT Entertainment, BGO, Jumpman Gaming and Progress Play all participated in the study and have committed to discontinuing certain practices that the CMA considered to be unfair.

The Commission and CMA have said that operators “must go further than simply complying with the published undertakings”. They encourage licensees to audit their terms and conditions, examine existing business systems and practices, embed compliance, and continually review these to ensure they maintain high standards of consumer protection.

Operators are also being urged to ensure any affiliates and third-party suppliers that they are working with are operating in line with the Commission’s licence conditions and codes of practice, which were updated in October last year.

“Making changes to promotions and withdrawal practices is an important start, but it is only one aspect of achieving compliance,” the letter said. “More needs to be done by the sector to win back consumer trust.

“The best operators going forward will be those who lead by example, build on the work undertaken by the CMA and treat customers fairly and responsibly.

“The Commission will continue to look at how firms treat consumers and the terms and practices that they employ when assessing suitability to hold a gambling licence.”

Although the CMA has said that it does not intend to take any further action in relation to the joint Commission investigation, the completion of the project does not signal the end of its relationship with the regulator and the two will continue to work together on various initiatives.

“It is important that you learn from the work that we have undertaken and ensure that compliance with consumer law is at the heart of your business model; this is essential for the sector to rebuild and maintain consumer trust,” the letter told licensees.

Publication of the letter comes after the Commission last week unveiled its new National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, with a focus on improving prevention and education efforts and enhancing treatment and support.

The three-year initiative will run from 2019 to 2022, with the regulator to work alongside public health bodies, charities and businesses to develop a strategy for preventing gamblers from developing problems, as well as a series of relevant interventions for those that develop dangerous habits.