November 4, 2021
A major part of the industry’s disquiet about the Gambling Commission’s proposals on customer affordability was that the Commission had omitted to do any research on whether existing regulatory arrangements could achieve the same effect. Put another way, the Commission had, in its 2019 and 2020 ‘Enforcement Reports’ effectively mandated affordability checks, with all their potential for unintended consequences and consumer antagonism, without really understanding whether all the other recently-implemented social responsibility measures were working or not. Surely, the argument goes, one needs to understand whether what exists works, or not, before demanding further, onerous and intrusive regulatory burdens?
One of these omissions in our knowledge has now been rectified. The Commission has published research on the effect of the ban on credit cards at least in interim form – more research is to be undertaken in due course.
Firstly, the ban seems to have been properly enforced by the industry. What small number of transactions did occur using credit cards after the nominal implementation date, appear to have been mistakes which were quickly resolved. Secondly, and in overall terms, the statisticians seemed happy with what had been achieved. Despite there being widespread knowledge about the available workarounds, nearly half the gamblers who had previously used credit cards said that they now confined themselves to gambling with ‘available funds’, and three-quarters of previous credit card gamblers declared that they no longer gambled with any type of borrowed money. Only some 15% of previous credit-card gamblers have found ways to gamble with other kinds of borrowed money and these appear overwhelmingly to be moderate-risk or problem gamblers. The overall assessment seems to be that ‘gamblers are not falling into debt as frequently or as severely’ and that the ban ‘has removed a gambling temptation from the minds of some gamblers’.
That said, and subject to the writer’s confessed ineptitude with statistics, the figures did not appear to show that those persons most at risk of harm had been particularly assisted by the ban. Although some gamblers commented that the ban had made them spend less because they now had to use ‘real money’, at-risk and problem gamblers seem to have resorted to overdrafts and cash withdrawals from ATMs and so on. So the more intractable cases, as it were, do not seem to have been cracked. This points to the need, emphasised at length in the industry’s submissions to both the Commission’s affordability consultation and the DCMS’s wider consultation, to focus in on persons who are suffering the most harm using data and technology.
Some more good news is that the regulator has proposed an improvement in its collection of gambling prevalence data. Part of the acute difficulty in assessing regulatory proposals, and navigating one’s way around the current wider debate on gambling, has been the dearth of proper data concerning at-risk and problem gambling. What indices we have seem to show a substantial decline in the relevant rates. The Commission’s data to end-September 2021 states:
- The overall problem gambling rate has decreased significantly (0.3%, compared to 0.6% in year to September 2020).
- The moderate risk rate has also decreased significantly to 0.7% (year to September 2021) compared to 1.2% in year to September 2020.
That suggests that something, somewhere, or, more likely, a combination of things everywhere, is or are ‘working’. But more detail on this would be invaluable. The credit card assessment is important because it doesn’t seem to suggest that the credit card ban, of itself, is responsible for these welcome decreases. Perhaps more likely is that the improvement in monitoring and customer interactions across the industry is having an effect, particularly in combination with the increased COVID vigilance, new attitudes to VIPs, whistle-to-whistle bans and other voluntary industry initiatives. If this is the case then data is urgently needed. If the industry itself is accomplishing this change then it throws the need for further regulatory burdens into serious doubt and enables a good argument for ‘more of the same’. More research on all of the recent initiatives and improvements in customer protection, both regulatory and voluntary, is also crucial to the ability to form an idea of why the trends are moving in the direction they are in order to inform future policy.
The Commission’s interim evaluation on the successful implementation of the ban on gambling with credit cards can be accessed here.
The Commission’s recently published statistics on participation and problem gambling for the year to September 2021 can be accessed here.