The financial vulnerability, or affordability, checks, that are part of the UK’s white paper on the future of gambling regulation should not be an imposing burden on the industry, says the head of the Gambling Commission.
Commission chief executive Andrew Rhodes scoffed at claims that obligations for gambling licensees to prove that players could afford their gambling habits were forcing operators to ask for bank statements and pay stubs and turn down modest bets because of what they discovered.
If operators were turning down £20 bets, that “could be for commercial reasons”, he said.
“We don’t ask, ‘have you been checking pay slips, etc.’, we ask, ‘what steps have you been taking against your own thresholds’?,” he said.
Rhodes was speaking on the white paper for the first time since its release on April 27. He made the comments on Wednesday (May 24) at SBC Events’ CasinoBeats Summit 2023 in Malta.
The white paper sets out a two-tier system for financial vulnerability checks: £125 a month or £500 per year for basic checks and £1,000 a day or £2,000 in six months for more detailed, but “frictionless”, banking and income checks.
What does a “frictionless” check mean? “I don’t know, it’s not been developed yet,” Rhodes said.
But, he added, “it should mean it is not obvious this is taking place”.
Do not be surprised if the Gambling Commission does not offer more specific criteria for financial vulnerability checks and percentage of a player’s discretionary income that can be considered safe to gamble than is already part of the white paper, Rhodes said.
“Everyone says, ‘it’s complicated, everyone’s different, but Gambling Commission, give us exact guidance’,” he said.
The white paper will release a flood of consultations from the Gambling Commission and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
The first batch of consultations will begin in mid-July, with financial vulnerability checks among those leading off, he said.
The consultations are not a chance to “re-litigate” issues that were settled by the white paper, Rhodes said.
Nor will it be a chance to argue for restrictions that were not advanced to the satisfaction of some, such as on advertising, he said.
Do not expect new issues to be addressed for several years, as the regulator has its hands full and does not wish to be distracted, he said.
An industry complaint has been that affordability checks, already routine with many licensees at a variety of levels, are driving players to the black market.
The black market is indeed a “growing threat”, but it is being exaggerated by some in the industry, and the UK channelisation rate is much better than in other jurisdictions, Rhodes said.
He said he was not impressed by surveys such as those by the Betting and Gaming Council and the racing industry which suggest that huge numbers of bettors will move to unlicensed offshore operators if asked for proof of income and assets.
There is a lack of evidence for such claims and surveys are “not reliable”, Rhodes said.
The Gambling Commission communicates with banks, payment processors, ISPs, search engines and suppliers, asking them to cut off unlicensed operators, steps which have shut off hundreds of illegal outlets, he claimed.
“We’re not interested in whacking individual sites because that’s not very productive,” he said.
The Gambling Commission under Rhodes has been cited for its willingness to listen to industry input, but also willing to levy world-beating levels of fines, such as the £19.2m penalty to 888 Holdings’ William Hill.
The simplest solution is for “the industry to demonstrate its compliance as quickly as possible”, he said.
Rhodes, who assumed his role permanently a year ago, said he thought his previous job heading the Department of Work and Pensions was the height of controversy because it involved welfare.
“I didn’t think I’d ever do anything more controversial, then I moved into gambling regulation”, with its “extremely polarised views in everybody”, he said.
Those views, for a time, even included death threats, he said.
For a brief time, he tried to engage critics on Twitter, “but I learned a lesson from that”, he told the audience.
“You’ve got so many people who are on there screaming, and they disrupt conversation,” Rhodes said.