The UK Gambling Commission has published new guidance for online operators, instructing that tighter measures need to be implemented to protect consumers during lockdown.
Encapsulating the need for affordability checks, prevention of reverse withdrawals and restrictions on bonus offers, it follows the publication of “new evidence” that the regulator says “shows some gamblers may be at greater risk of harm during lockdown”.
However, the UKGC does stipulate that “there is no evidence to suggest an increase in problem gambling,” with a market shift as a result of covid-19 highlighting a higher uptake of certain gambling products such as online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports.
Collected through the gambling industry and YouGov surveys, the data shows that in terms of time spent gambling, while overall session length has decreased, there has been an increase in the number of sessions that are played for over an hour.
Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sports, Tourism and Heritage, said: “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 guidance in light of the country’s lockdown measures, the UKGC states that online operators must now take account of additional guidance, which makes clear 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 expected to make changes to act on this guidance as soon as possible, with the UKGC also bringing forward plans to consult on whether further targeted player protection measures are required on a permanent basis.
Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission chief executive, 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.”
Later this month the Commission will be opening a consultation which will propose strengthened measures around ethical product design, including reverse withdrawals and VIP Inducements.