Insights Gambling Commission CEO reminds online operators of the need to protect customers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, has published an open letter to all online operators reminding them of their duty to protect consumers during lockdown. Mr McArthur notes that the restrictions imposed in response to Covid-19 have had an impact on customer behaviour, as set out in the Commission’s National Strategic Assessment. The Commission has also continued to gather monthly operator and consumer data and will shortly publish the data from November 2020.

Mr McArthur says that “No one should be in any doubt about how closely we are monitoring issues or our willingness to take further action if we deem that necessary”. He says that extra operator vigilance is needed during this new national lockdown because:

  • most people will be spending more time at home and many people are likely to be feeling more isolated and vulnerable as a result of the length of the pandemic period, the new restrictions and further uncertainty about their personal or financial circumstances;
  • some consumers, such as highly engaged gamblers who play a range of products, are likely to spend more time and money gambling and the fact that sport will continue during this lockdown will mean there are more opportunities for betting customers to gamble; and
  • some people may gamble for the first time.

The Commission expects online operators to:

  • continue to follow the strengthened guidance issued during the first lockdown, taking close interest in data that shows consumers expanding their portfolio of games and spending more time or money than before;
  • interact directly where triggers are reached, as well as more generic email engagement;
  • avoid any temptation to exploit the current situation for marketing purposes and be very cautious when seeking to cross-sell products; and
  • take particular care when on-boarding new customers and making decisions over affordability checks which reflect the environment we are in.

Mr McArthur says that the Commission will continue to:

  • take steps to permanently strengthen regulatory requirements, encompassing changes to RTS and LCCP to protect consumers; and
  • monitor operators and consumer behaviour very closely and conduct its compliance assessments during this latest lockdown as it did last year.

As well as gathering and publishing its own data, if operators want to share their own analysis of impacts to the industry or share other information that may be relevant to the Commission’s work they can talk to Ben Haden, Director of Research and Statistics, who is collating all of the information about how Covid-19 is affecting the industry at this time.

Additionally, Mr McArthur says, if operators have information or concerns about the behaviour of an operator, the Commission’s Confidential Intelligence Hotline is continuing to take calls or they can email the team. Guidance to support best practice can be found in the Commission’s Annual Compliance and Enforcement report and operators can also continue to contact their account manager in the normal way.

Mr McArthur says that the gambling industry and daily life as a whole continues to be impacted by the pandemic and whilst there is some light and hope ahead with the vaccine, he wants to ensure that “operators are clear of our expectations”. He concludes that “operators must now more than ever, continue to be vigilant to protect their customers”. To read the letter in full, click here.