Tottenham Report: Who Wants To Be a Personal Management Licence Holder? By Paula Murphy, Founder and Managing Director of KnowNow Limited March 17, 2021 at 10:00 pm Earlier this month, the UK Gambling Commission (GC) announced they had taken action against a number of Personal Management Licence (PML) holders at Caesars Entertainment UK. This investigation was launched off the back of regulatory action last year resulting in a £13m penalty for the operator, stemming from a series of social-responsibility, money-laundering and customer-interaction failures, including those involving ‘VIP customers’. In addition to the overall operating licence, all gambling operators doing business in the UK must officially assign responsibility to an individual for seven key functions of the business: overall strategic and operational running of the business; finance; marketing/commercial development; regulatory compliance; technology; and geographical management where there are five or more licensed premises and management of a single licensed premises. These individuals must apply for, obtain and maintain a PML from the UK Gambling Commission. As a result of the investigation into Caesars Entertainment, seven PML holders were officially warned and two received “advice-to-conduct” letters, which stop short of an official warning. However, the Commission does keep record of the fact that advice has been given and will take this into consideration in the future. In layman’s terms, it could be considered as “strike one”. Most notably, three PML holders surrendered their licences following notification that they had been placed under review. The Commission also made it clear that one PML holder surrendered his licence whilst being investigated, another was subject to revocation due to non-payment of fees and 18 more received advice-to-conduct letters outside of the review process. They also quoted a separate incident which resulted in a Caesars PML holder having his licence revoked following an altercation with a guest at his place of work. Commenting on the action, Richard Watson, Executive Director at the GC, said: “All personal licence holders should be aware that they will be held accountable, where appropriate, for the regulatory failings within the operators they manage.” This is a sentiment with which few of us would argue and it is not surprising to see the Commission taking action against individuals who manifested “systematic failings,” in the Commission’s words, in relation to this case. Some would argue that the GC were actually fairly lenient here, given the small number of individuals who actually lost their licences. In fact, it has always been true that PML holders are personally accountable for regulatory failings. It is an important tool in the pursuit of minimising gambling-related harm and should help create a player-protection culture throughout the industry. There has been fair warning and those of us who comment on the industry have been saying for some time now that the climate is moving in the direction of action against individuals. Keystone Law’s Richard Williams gave a fantastic presentation in January 2020 at the KnowNow conference looking at the responsibilities of PML holders and asking the question: Who would want to be a PML holder? Losing your PML can have huge implications in terms of your career in gambling and it begs the questions, is it fair? Do PML holders know the risks? And are they all paid to accept them? Parallels can be drawn to the calls for individuals to be held accountable for failures in other industries, notably the debate over whether there should have been more enforcement against individuals in banks for misconduct leading up to and following the 2008 financial crisis. That might seem dramatic, but here in the UK, problem gambling has long been referred to as the “hidden epidemic” and some stakeholders would certainly argue that we are at or even beyond crisis point. However, it is never quite as straightforward as it appears. Just like with the banks in the noughties, complex organisational structures can render it difficult to pinpoint responsible individuals. In some ways, the PML system gets around that; we have individuals who are clearly owning responsibility. But do those individuals always understand what they are signing up for? The onus is on the operators to ensure that they do and are adequately trained. There is then the issue of following both the letter and spirit of the regulation. If a PML holder fails to interpret the LCCP correctly or identify markers of harm early enough, they are at risk of losing their PML and in turn their livelihood. Even conversations about who is responsible for problem gambling are not straightforward. Is it the operator, the individual gambler, the life experience that has led them to that place in their life or a combination of all of the above? Maybe the question we should be asking is not “who is to blame?” but more “how do we work together to minimise harm?” Operators obviously do have a responsibility to follow regulatory requirements and, in my opinion, go beyond that in the pursuit of protecting their customers from harm. I am all about making gambling safer and believe that in order to futureproof the industry, we need to make sure that everyone involved understands and cares about player protection. It should be central to the values of all of our organisations. I’m an advocate of a safer gambling standard that all employees working in the sector should have to achieve. It should be a thread that runs through every decision in every department at every operator. The issue is we are not there yet. We see an absolute revolution taking place on this front and huge amounts of investment and effort going into technology, training and understanding of AML and problem gambling. These are all positives; yet they never seem to be recognised. Obviously, gross wrongdoing and negligence must be addressed, but as my grandmother used to tell me, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I believe it’s a fair point. Surely, we would do better with a positive, inclusive approach that is made up of more carrot and less stick. 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.