UK Parliamentary Investigation Attacks 'Activist' Gambling Commission

January 25, 2022
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming has said the Gambling Commission is in “urgent need of change” and if left unchallenged will allow an “explosion” of black market activity.


The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming (APPG) has said the Gambling Commission is in “urgent need of change” and if left unchallenged will allow an “explosion” of black market activity.

The pro-gambling APPG’s “Investigation into the Competency and Effectiveness of the Gambling Commission”, which was published on January 24, alleges the regulator has acted “ultra vires”, been “less than competent” and is guilty of “multiple breaches of almost all the sections of the Regulator’s Code”.

Scott Benton MP, the co-chair of the APPG, said it is of “utmost concern” that the gambling industry has had to “suffer such poor service” and accused the regulator of being “captured by ideological zealots”.

“We of course want to support those who suffer from gambling addiction, but this shouldn’t be done so through excessive and unnecessary over-regulation that will force many into the arms of the black market,” Benton said.

The APPG co-chair pledged to “keep up the pressure” on the Gambling Commission, as well as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), ahead of the release of the highly anticipated Gambling Act review white paper.

Examples of the commission acting ultra vires, or beyond its powers, include the “imposition of Affordability and the prospect of Vulnerability”, the replacement of clear regulations with guidance notes and the continuation of COVID-19 restrictions after lockdown had been lifted, according to the APPG.

Additionally, the investigation, which is based on submissions sent to the group’s website, deemed the Gambling Commission to be “imbibed with an overtly anti-gambling ideology”, accusing it of becoming “an industry-funded anti-gambling activist group”.

The report includes six key recommendations.

It calls on the Gambling Act review to consider whether the regulator’s role is to “actively seek a significant reduction in the number of problem gamblers” and for a government department to temporarily take over the complaints process from the Gambling Commission so that the industry feels safe to critique the regulator.

The DCMS is also asked to put the commission “under Special Measures” to see if it is able to change its culture and strategic direction.

The Better Regulation Executive is asked to undertake an audit of the Gambling Commission and for a Queen's Counsel (QC) to investigate the current enforcement process.

Additionally, the report calls for the DCMS to consider amending the Gambling Act to differentiate between high-risk and low-risk gambling operators “so that the level of regulation can be made proportionate”.

A spokesperson for the Gambling Commission said it had only just received a copy of the report, which is the first contact it had from the APPG on the matter.

“We expect to hear from them in an official capacity to respond to views about the Gambling Commission and put straight inaccurate assumptions, as well as share our regulatory approach,” the Gambling Commission told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

The regulator said it is important to “keep in mind” that some gambling industry stakeholders “are never going to be content with a regulator which continually pushes for safer gambling”.

Trade group the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has attempted to distance itself from the report. It said on social media the report is in no way representative of its views and it does not endorse its recommendations.

“Contrary to the impression given by the report, BGC members work closely with the regulator and the GC are rightly driving higher standards,” the BGC said, adding it “strongly supports change and sees the Gambling Review as an opportunity to further raise standards, building on our own work up to now”.

A spokesperson for the BGC told VIXIO it would not comment on the specifics of the report.

However, the APPG said even though it was made aware “certain trade bodies had advised their members not to submit evidence for fear of upsetting the commission”, it still received “a significant number of submissions”.

The manner in which the APPG invited complaints about the competence and effectiveness of the Gambling Commission meant “it was a foregone conclusion what its findings would be”, commented David Clifton of Clifton Davies consultancy.

However, despite containing “few surprises”, the investigation's content is still likely to “strike a chord” with a “sizeable number” of licence holders and their advisors, Clifton told VIXIO.

As the publication of the white paper draws to a close, Clifton said recent developments such as the positive views towards the regulator expressed by officials at a GambleAware conference last month show “in whose favour the wind is currently blowing”.

“What the report does make clear is that serious steps must now be taken to ensure that substantially increased levels of trust and respect are restored as between the regulator and those it regulates,” he said.

Clifton hopes the new interim CEO of the Gambling Commission, Andrew Rhodes, uses the investigation to explore “how these broken bridges can be repaired for the benefit of not only the Gambling Commission and its licence holders but also the public at large”.

The government has committed to review the effectiveness of the Gambling Commission in its review of the Gambling Act.

In a separate report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2020, the regulator and the government were both deemed to not have a sufficient understanding of gambling harms.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report later that year said the commission lacked the powers or the resources it needed to regulate a “huge and fast-evolving” industry.

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