Despite being warned of the catastrophic fallout they would bring to the industry, the UK Gambling Commission appears to be pressing on with its plans to introduce affordability checks on players.
In the midst of the government’s Gambling Act review, the regulator has identified a number of areas that it plans to prioritise – with ‘financial vulnerability’ top of the agenda.
As of September this year, casino operators will be required to take additional steps in the identification and protection of their most vulnerable customers – although the specifics, including the possibility of monthly loss limits – have not been confirmed.
Previously, it was thought that the Commission wanted to bring in the means-tested checks for all players – imposing a loss limit of £100 a month on those with lower incomes and/or less savings.
It was considered a hugely controversial move given that players would have to prove their ‘worth’ by submitting payslips and bank statements to casinos and sports betting sites – creating issues over data protection and privacy.
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) represents the interests of a large proportion of gambling firms that operate on UK soil, and they fear that if affordability measures are too stringent it could push gamers to the black market.
“We believe enhanced spending checks should be used online to identify those showing signs of problem gambling and to focus in on those at risk, so swift interventions can take place,” their spokesperson revealed.
“But it is essential this is targeted as an industry, so we don’t interfere with the personal freedoms of the vast majority of people who gamble safely and responsibly, as research shows that 90% of people do not comply with requests for information.
“Any changes introduced by the government must not drive gamblers towards the growing unsafe, unregulated black market online, where billions of pounds are being staked.”
The Commission has confirmed that it will be rolling out its consultation on affordability in the coming weeks, and will feed its results into the government’s gambling sector white paper – that, planned for a May publication, is also expected to feature rule changes on how affordability is measured and implemented.
Fast and Proportionate
As part of the Commission’s new guidelines, online casinos will have to make a raft of changes before that September deadline.
They will now be forced to monitor a specific set of indicators, including patterns of behaviour and variances in spending, and implement automated technologies that enable indicators to be flagged in a timely fashion.
Players considered to be the most at risk could be prevented from taking up new bonuses, while individual operators will have to prove they are interacting appropriately with their customers in ‘casework’ supplied to the Commission at regular intervals.
The regulator’s chief executive, Andrew Rhodes, has been firm in his belief that online casinos and betting sites need to do more to protect their customers.
“Time and time again our enforcement cases show that some operators are still not doing enough to prevent gambling harm,” he said. “These new rules, developed following an extensive consultation, make our expectations even more explicit.
“We expect operators to identify and tackle gambling harms with fast, proportionate and effective action, and we will not hesitate to take tough action on operators who fail to do so.”