Just a matter of months after being named the full time CEO of the UK Gambling Commission, Andrew Rhodes has given the clearest indication yet that the regulator will toughen up and get to grips with the myriad problems impacting the industry.
Rhodes spent around six months as interim chief before being given the top job permanently in January, and his keynote speech at the Westminster Media Forum on Monday identified a number of areas in which the sector needs to improve.
Those include the close control of ‘unregulated spaces’ creeping into online casino gaming and sports betting, with NFTs, crypto token staking and loot boxes earmarked as areas in which nefarious individuals are ‘trying to make a quick buck’.
Rhodes has also promised to crack down on operators that fail to exert appropriate problem gambling measures, and cited a number of examples of punters being allowed to bet huge sums without any meaningful intervention from the online betting sites.
And he also referenced the black market of gambling, which could be given a boost if the government’s White Paper introduces restrictive affordability checks.
Rhodes suggested that the picture for the UK gambling industry overall was a positive one, although he noted that the average slot gaming session has decreased to 18 minutes in 2022 – down from the 21 minute average of the two years prior.
A decrease of 4% in ‘overall gambling participation’ was also noted for the year March 2021-22 when compared to the same period from 2019-20.
The Gambling Commission has long spoken of getting tougher on those operators that continue to flaunt problem gambling and anti-money laundering policies, but Rhodes has claimed that now is the time the regulator will follow through on their promises.
He has promised to ‘escalate the penalties’ for those that continue to break the rules, and that harsher punishments that go beyond just financial sanctions – often considered a mere ‘tax’ by operators – are likely.
“We will escalate the penalties for failings if we don’t see the industry start to consistently live up to our standards,” Rhodes told the Westminster audience.
“Operators who aren’t compliant are not just letting their customers down or their own businesses. They are letting down the entire sector.”
Gamblification is, in essence, a completely made-up word, but it’s one that is necessary to explain an increasing area of concern in the industry.
More and more online casinos seem to be engaging in crypto and NFT products, while loot boxes are an increasingly common scourge that promise players plenty without necessarily delivering.
What do those three things all have in common? They are all gambling products offered under the guise of investment, art or gaming enhancement, and Rhodes has reiterated his concern at the ‘increasingly blurred’ lines between traditional gambling and those that are somewhat harder to define.
The Commission chief confirmed that he would be acting to defeat the ‘hangers-on’ that are taking advantage of well-meaning but naïve gamblers.
Off to Market
The delay over the publication of the government’s White Paper have done little to allay fears that considerable regulatory change is afoot.
Affordability checks, if introduced, could push punters to the black market – where lax rule-making in jurisdictions like Curacao enables operators to welcome customers with minimal to zero interference.
But there are many downsides to playing at a black market casino – as Rhodes was quick to point out.
“For those consumers that end up there [an offshore site], it is likely to be a dangerous and unfair place to gamble with your money, and it is something the Commission will always look to force down.”