UK Commission Boss Attempts To Calm Affordability Concerns

February 9, 2023
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The UK’s top gambling regulator hopes for a future where there can be a “mature” conversation about player protection versus consumer freedom, but pointed to current and future enforcement cases as evidence that the industry still has problems to solve.

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The UK’s top gambling regulator hopes for a future where there can be a “mature” conversation about player protection versus consumer freedom, but pointed to current and future enforcement cases as evidence that the industry still has problems to solve.

Operators in the UK continue to face regulatory action over failings including allowing players to gamble beyond their means, with more fines expected in the coming months.

However, “operators increasingly do want to do the right thing”, said Andrew Rhodes, the chief executive of the UK Gambling Commission, speaking at the Consumer Protection Zone within London’s ICE gambling conference on Wednesday (February 8).

Rhodes said he still had a long list of recent compliance failures by UK operators to tackle, but expressed optimism that licence holders were trending in the right direction.

In particular, there is a focus on issues that could be avoided by so-called affordability checks, which require operators to assess if their customers can afford their gambling spending.

Asked how he hoped the conversation on consumer protection would look in three years he said: “I don’t want to be seeing the cases I’m seeing now.”

Instead, he hopes that a calmer compliance landscape will allow for a “mature” conversation about the virtues of protecting players through affordability checks, balanced against the limits on consumer freedom that entails.

Complaints about regulatory overreach of existing affordability requirements, as well as what may be included in the UK government’s elusive gambling reform white paper, have become commonplace.

Rhodes said his Twitter feed is “full of ... screaming” over gambling policy, including a vocal cohort who complain that intrusive financial checks infringe civil liberties and push people to the black market.

Research commissioned by trade group the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) and conducted by Yield Sec found that around 250,000 people visited black-market gambling websites during the recent FIFA World Cup.

The commission chief executive complained of “significant misinformation” about the regulator’s position on affordability, and claimed that it was not calling for specific spending thresholds to be implemented and would not make a “moral judgement” about how much a UK gambling consumer should spend.

Instead, he said the commission expects operators to investigate the spending power of their customers when it suspects they may be gambling beyond their means.

Rhodes also spoke of his ambition for the Gambling Commission to be the “authoritative voice on the facts of gambling” and to speak out publicly where it sees misuse of its statistics.

Last year, the regulator conducted a pilot revival of its participation survey and said it would be formally re-launching the study this year.

Recent statistics show that although gross gambling yield has fallen by 16 percent, the number of active accounts among the UK’s largest operators has risen by 8 percent and the number of bets placed has risen by 5 percent. Rhodes suggested that the market could be moving away from VIPs and towards a more sustainable player base, although he said it was too early to draw firm conclusions from the data.

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