Gambling regulator's new strategic priorities reflect its tougher approach to enforcement, says expert

Out-Law News | 16 Nov 2017 | 5:06 pm | 3 min. read

The new strategic priorities that the Gambling Commission has outlined reflect the tougher approach to enforcement that it has adopted in recent times, an expert has said.

Earlier this week the British regulator set out a new strategy which identified protecting the interests of consumers and preventing harm to consumers and the public as two of five "strategic priorities" for its work up until 2021.

The other three strategic priorities the Commission adopted are raising standards in the gambling market, optimising returns to good causes from lotteries, and improving the way it regulates.

The Commission outlined a range of actions it said it would take in pursuit of the five priorities, including measures to address the current "imbalance" in the relationship between gambling operators and consumers. It said it would seek to give consumers "more power and control" over the way they can manage their gambling, and would look to "make sure that operators provide easy access to reliable information, tools and services which consumers can use to inform and control their gambling at every stage of the customer journey".

"Over the next three years we want to see operators make a step change in the way consumers are equipped to understand and manage their gambling and we will regulate to enhance minimum requirements," the Commission said. "We will use our powers to intervene on a precautionary basis if products, licensees or processes give rise to concerns, and we will take action against operators and personal licensees if there are persistent or systemic failures. We will use the full range of our powers to protect consumers."

"We want consumers to have confidence that when they gamble, they are doing so with a business licensed by the Commission, which significantly reduces the risk that their gambling is connected to crime or rigged against them. We act against illegal operators because the level of potential harm to consumers and society is significant. But markets move quickly and new business models, products and opportunities emerge, as we have seen with e-sports and skins betting. We see it as our role to advise government and alert the public if we see risks with new and evolving gambling or gambling style products," it said.

The Commission said it expects gambling operators to work together to address problem gambling and that it would also "regulate and take precautionary action where necessary to reduce gambling-related harm".

"We want a focus on ‘what works’ and we will drive and develop across the gambling landscape a culture of trialling and evaluating interventions," the regulator said. "We expect operators to lead the way on identifying how innovation in products and services can support innovation in protecting and empowering the consumer."

A new national strategy for safer gambling will also be developed, which operators will be expected to support, the Commission said.

The Commission also said that it wants to see more evidence that operators are prioritising "good consumer outcomes". At the moment, "consumer protections are designed separately to products and late in the process", it said.

"We expect to see evidence of operators (in particular their boards and senior individuals) leading a culture of accountability to the customer first, as well as to the regulator," the Commission said. "This means showing a genuine commitment to providing a fair and safe ‘offer’ to customers. It means seeking and taking account of consumer views. In particular, it means innovating to identify effective ways to prevent and minimise gambling-related harm and maintain product and market integrity, and acting quickly to put things right if they go wrong."

Operators that "do not attempt to understand the risks of gambling or fail to put in place effective mitigations, are deliberately or negligently noncompliant and who do not take account of lessons learned" will face penalties, it said.

"We will use the full range of our enforcement powers, and develop our use of sanctions, to ensure these are well targeted and provide credible deterrence," the Commission said.

Christopher Rees-Gay, gambling law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "The five priorities outlined by the Gambling Commission build on the position that it set out at its ‘Raising Standards' conference last year. They also re-enforce the Commission’s change in stance set out at last year’s conference, which has over the past 12 months seen it carry out an increased number of operating licence reviews and issue large fines to some operators. It is no coincidence that this new strategy has been released prior to this year’s ‘Raising Standards’ conference due to take place next week."