The new UK minister for gambling has called for “proportionate” affordability checks and backed a “single customer view” to share data across multiple operators to detect problem gambling behaviour.
In a speech on Wednesday, minister Chris Philp called for “robust” checks to prevent unaffordable gambling.
“Demanding payslips or bank statements from every customer spending £100 or so is likely to be unwelcome, disruptive and disproportionate to the risks,” he said. “But there is a level that is appropriate.”
The UK gambling industry is waiting for a planned update of the 2005 Gambling Act, with anti-addiction advocates hoping for a refresh that will clamp down on abuse, while the industry hopes regulation will be updated with minimal impact on profit.
A recent call for evidence got 16,000 responses and a white paper giving the government views will appear “in the coming months”, Philp said.
Philp said the regulator needs powers to demand and analyse bulk account-level data from operators “to identify whether they’re doing what they’re supposed to under their licence conditions”.
Philp, who was appointed minister for technology and the digital economy in September, was speaking at the annual GambleAware conference in London, with the day’s discussions framed around the topic of “Collaboration in the prevention of gambling harms”.
Andrew Rhodes, the UK Gambling Commission’s interim chief executive, said that although affordability checks were a useful tool, there is much harm on which they would have no effect, because problem gamblers usually have multiple accounts.
“Being able to see between multiple operators damaging behaviour might have seen a very different effect,” he said.
In October, the Information Commissioner’s Office said that sharing player data across multiple accounts would probably be legal, given “legitimate interests” or because it was a licensing requirement.
But punishing bad behaviour by operators is still a key part of the commission’s job, according to Rhodes.
“We are seeing the same companies committing the same violations,” he warned. Some are “starting to see fines as a compliance tax”.
The Gambling Commission has assessed more than £100m in penalties since the 2017-2018 fiscal year and terminated ten operator licences, not counting those that surrendered their licences before they might have lost them, Rhodes said.
Operators that are trying to improve standards of corporate behaviour are “frustrated”, he said.
But a common industry complaint, that if regulation gets too tough players will move to the black market, “gets overstated” and will not deter the regulator from trying to raise standards, Rhodes said.
It is as if some gambling companies were a taxicab licensee called to account with “four bald tires standing in front of me talking about the illegal minicab around the corner”, he said.
“We are not going to be deflected from that mission because someone else is worse,” Rhodes said.
“There are too many cases that make everyone blush,” he said. “And that has to stop.”