All change – Gambling-related harm and living in lockdown By Paula Murphy, Founder and Managing Director of KnowNow Limited December 2, 2020 at 6:49 pm It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. I am sure we have all seen the posts on social media saying things like, “I’m not adding 2020 to my age, because I haven’t used it”. However, if you work in compliance or responsible gambling, so much has been happening. We’ve all been very busy dealing with the disruption caused by COVID and carrying on business as usual in the tireless pursuit of minimising gambling-related harm. We move into 2021 with the promise of vaccines just around the corner and a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of returning to normal (whatever that is). We also go into a year where a lot of change is set to happen. We welcomed the new year off the back of a general election in the UK and confirmation that there would be a full review of the 2005 Gambling Act in line with the Conservative Party manifesto. Senior executives at NHS England joined the conversation. A letter sent by NHS Mental Health Director, Claire Murdoch, to the CEOs of the biggest UK operators called for immediate action and really set the tone of what was to come by stating “… the NHS cannot be expected to put out fires caused by other parts of society playing with matches, which is why we need the gambling industry to up its game.” As the months went by, criticism of both the industry and its regulator continued. The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee report on gambling regulation, “Problem Gambling and Protecting the Vulnerable People,” published in June, branded the UKGC a “toothless regulator.” June also saw the Gambling-Related Harm APPG publish their final report on online gambling harm, concluding that we need greater protection for online gamblers and a complete overhaul of gambling regulation in the UK. So we await to see what happens next and when the review will actually take place. It was set to begin in November; however, that did not happen. It now seems we will be waiting until 2021. Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who chairs the APPG, has expressed her view that the review needs to begin urgently. She said, “It is incredibly worrying that the review is stumbling before it has reached the first hurdle. We had been led to believe that Boris Johnson will personally spearhead the reform of Britain’s broken gambling laws. The virus is not an excuse – getting this review under way now will be a matter of life and death for hundreds of families.” Things have not been on hold whilst we wait for the politicians and find our way through the virus and associated lockdowns. If we take a quick look at regulatory action this year, we can see that the wheels are still very much in motion. Back in February, we saw two license suspensions and Matchbook were later fined £740K for social-responsibility and AML failings. Mr Green also paid a regulatory settlement of £3million relating to historic AML and customer-interaction failings. In March, Betway paid £11.6million in relation to AML and social-responsibility failings linked to VIP customers. April saw Caesars UK join the list; they had to pay £13 million also in relation to social-responsibility, AML and customer-interaction failings. We also saw two license suspensions in April for companies who failed to participate in GAMSTOP by 31 March. In October, we saw BGO Entertainment Limited pay £2m, NetBet Enterprise Limited £748K and GAN PLC £146K, all again relating to social-responsibility and AML issues. November saw Boylessports fined £2.8million for AML breaches and Park Lane Casino’s license was revoked for AML failings. Now, maths isn’t my strong point, but I think that adds up to somewhere in the region of just over £34million in fines and regulatory settlements. That does not strike me as a toothless watchdog, I have to say! We went into lockdown back in March with warnings of a potential problem-gambling epidemic and concerns that people stuck at home with financial worries were likely to spend large amounts of time and money gambling online. To date, the data seem to tell us that didn’t actually happen and there is no evidence of a marked increase in problem gambling. The industry responded to calls for added focus on player protection during this period. BGC members agreed to a voluntary ban on TV and radio advertising or to replace adverts with safer gambling messages where space was already booked. Despite having to work remotely with disparate teams, procedures were tightened in line with new Gambling Commission guidelines. Work continued on crucial projects, like the working groups that had been set up to look at such issues as advertising technology and VIPs. There is no quick fix to making gambling safer, but work to do just that continues on so many fronts. We will be talking a lot more about affordability and customer onboarding over the coming months, as well as addressing the challenge of the single-customer view. We will be looking at markers of harm and how best to handle interventions. We will be reviewing RG tools and new ones will be developed. We will have a National education programme that looks at prevention of harm through knowledge. How we market our products in a way that protects the young and vulnerable will remain on the agenda. And yes – I am sure we will be talking a fair bit about that Gambling Act review. I’m looking forward to discussing all of that with you here. Paula Murphy is Founder and Managing Director of KnowNow Limited. She is responsible for designing the content for KnowNow’s suite of compliance and player protection events. As such, Paula works closely with stakeholders from across the gambling industry including regulators, operators, academics, gambling support services, experts through lived experience and legal professionals.