The UK Gambling Commission has issued new guidelines for online operators, instructing that stricter controls must be enforced during lockdown to protect consumers.
Encapsulating the need for checks on availability, preventing reverse withdrawals and limitations on incentive deals follows the publication of “new evidence” that the regulator says “shows that some gamblers may be at greater risk of harm during lockdown.”
The UKGC does, however, stipulate that “there is no evidence to suggest an increase in problem gambling,” with a market shift resulting from covid-19 outlining a higher uptake of some of these gambling products, such as poker, casino gaming, online slots and virtual sports.
Obtained from the gambling industry and YouGov surveys, the data shows that there has been an rise in the amount of sessions that are played for over an hour in terms of time spent gambling, while total session duration has been decreasing.
Minister for Sports, Tourism and Heritage Nigel Huddleston stated: “It is vital that people are protected from the threat of gambling related harm and I welcome these latest steps from the Gambling Commission.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will not hesitate to take further action if required.”
Reviewing guidelines in light of the country’s lockout steps, the UKGC notes that online operators now need to take additional guidelines into account, which makes it clear that they should:
- Prevent reverse withdrawal options for customers until further notice.
- Cease to offer bonuses or promotions to all customers who are displaying indicators of harm.
- Interact with customers who have been playing for an hour in a single session of play.
- Review thresholds and triggers for new customers to reflect the operator’s lack of knowledge of that individual’s play and spend patterns.
- Conduct affordability assessments for individuals picked up by existing or new thresholds and triggers which indicate consumers experiencing harm – limiting or blocking further play until those checks have been concluded and supporting evidence obtained.
- Implement processes that ensure the continual monitoring of their customer base – identifying patterns of play, spend or behaviours have changed in recent weeks.
Online operators will be forced to make adjustments as soon as possible to comply on this guidance, with the UKGC also putting forward proposals to consult on whether more targeted player security measures are permanently needed.
Neil McArthur, chief executive of the Gambling Commission, explained: “Operators must use the data they hold to protect their customers and now, more than ever, it’s vital that online operators really know their customers by monitoring how long they are playing for and understanding how financial uncertainty is impacting them and what they can afford to gamble with.
“To ensure operators do that, we are strengthening our guidance and expect operators to take account of that to prevent bonus offers or inducements being offered to customers who are showing any sign of harm.”
Adding: “We will continue to monitor and publish the data that we are collecting and we will take further measures if required. We are monitoring online operators closely and if we see irresponsible behaviour we will step in immediately, suspending licences if we need to.”
The Commission will launch a consultation later this month that will recommend improved steps on the design of ethical goods, including reverse withdrawals and VIP inductions.