Watson demands reapplication process for all UK licensees

20 May 2019

Tom Watson, deputy leader of the UK's Labour Party, has called for all online casino operators in the country to be forced to reapply for their licences in a letter to the Culture Secretary and Gambling Commission.

Watson, whose party could form the next government in the UK, chose to contact the bodies charged with regulating gambling in the UK after four operators were last week told to pay a total of £4.5m in penalty packages as part of the Gambling Commission’s ongoing investigation into compliance failings in the the online sector.

Watson, a long-time critic of the sector, cited figures from the Gambling Commission which suggest that a third of operators are failing to protect customers and meet licensing requirements over money laundering in his letter to Jeremy Wright, the Culture Secretary, and Neil McArthur, the chief executive of the Gambling Commission.

Summarising the letter on social media, he said all operators should now all be forced to reapply for their operating licences.

“This review would be an opportunity for existing remote licence-holders to reapply for the privilege of operating and marketing in the UK,” Watson wrote.

“We need checks on their financial probity, the identity and character of their owners, the contributions they make to the research, education and treatment of problem gambling, the partnerships they have with our sports clubs, and any recent breaches of licence conditions.

“A UK gambling licence should be a hallmark of credibility and trust - not an opportunity to push the limits of conditions and responsibilities.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told iGamingBusiness.com that it had received Watson’s letter and would respond to his claims and suggestions in due course.

The penalty packages issued last week form part of an ongoing investigation into the online casino sector.

Over the last 18 months the regulator has conducted assessments of, or engaged with, 123 online operators - and of the 45 told to submit an action plan to raise standards 38 have already showed signs of improvement.

A further 34 were compliant with standards expected by the Commission or had minor issues which have been, or are in the process of being, remedied.

The Gambling Commission wrote to all online casino operators at the start of 2018 to raise concerns about the sector’s approach to anti-money laundering processes and social responsibility controls.

Earlier this year, Watson outlined Labour plans to demand mandatory limits on player spending, staking and speed of play for online gaming as part of a root-and-branch overhaul of igaming regulation in England, Scotland and Wales.