“Now needs to be a moment to build momentum in making gambling fairer and safer,” asserted Tim Miller, executive director of the UK Gambling Commission, in a keynote address to the CMS Virtual Gambling Conference this week.

Touching upon work undertaken during the pandemic period and the changing nature of gambling over the previous few years, Miller also took tentative glances forward ahead of the regulator publishing its updated three-year Corporate Strategy and Business Plan.

The UKGC says that the former of those, to be published this week, will focus on the five core objective of protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed by gambling, a fairer market and more informed consumers, keeping crime out of gambling, optimising returns to good causes from the National Lottery, and improving gambling regulation.

“A well-regulated gambling market, in which consumers have confidence that they will be treated fairly and are well protected, is the only sustainable basis for allowing businesses to provide facilities for gambling,” Miller commented

Alongside this, the Commission is also set to deliver its updated Business Plan, which intends to outline the key milestones its plans to complete and address during 2021-22.

“As you would expect there is a keen focus on actions to protect people from harm,” Miller outlines; adding that dealing with “operators who have allowed people to gamble amounts that are clearly unaffordable” will be an “immediate priority in any next steps”.

Moreover, he continued by stating that the protection of customer funds will be another key area being focused upon, as well as that of keeping crime out of gambling.

Praising the work undertaken by former chief executive Neil McArthur, who departed the role earlier in the month, Miller, reflecting on work undertaken thus far, adds that its “record of action should leave no one in doubt that the Gambling Commission is totally focused on making gambling safer, fairer and crime free.”

A shift to mobile was pinpointed as one of the key shifts since the group published its first Corporate Strategy around three years ago, alongside that of overall digital gambling growth and the increasingly prominent feature of mergers and acquisitions.

On the former of those, Miller notes that “whilst the closure of land based gambling for large parts of the last year may not have led to tectonic shifts in the gambling landscape, it has undoubtedly accelerated the trends we were already seeing towards online gambling and what products people choose to gamble on”.

Alongside COVID specific data, in February the UKGC published the latest official statistics on participation and prevalence, which showed that the problem gambling rate in 2020 was 0.3 per cent. This compares with 0.6 per cent in 2019, 0.5 per cent in 2018, 0.6 per cent  in 2017 and 0.7 per cent  in 2016.

“Although the drop from 0.6 per cent to 0.3 per cent in the last year is not considered statistically significant at the 95 per cent confidence level that we apply, when you look back over the last five years it does appear that there is an emerging trend showing a decline in overall rates of problem gambling,” he explained.

“I know when I said this a couple of weeks ago it caused some debate on social media. Should the Commission even be talking about data if it’s not statistically significant? On the other side were voices heralding this as evidence of ‘Mission Accomplished’.

“Now I apologise if I sound slightly grumpy here but as we enter the review of the Gambling Act, that everyone says must be evidence led, we can not have a repeat of the debates of the past where evidence is dismissed simply because it doesn’t support your views or trumpeted as conclusive when it does. 

“In forming our advice we will want to look at the broadest range of evidence- statistics, lived experience, research. We will fill evidential gaps where we can and provide assessments of evidential value.

“So, returning to the problem gambling rates- we will continue to monitor this and remain vigilant. And we will not measure progress simply on this one metric alone.  

“Most importantly, I want to be clear that this data cannot be seen as a reason to take our foot off the accelerator when it comes to protecting consumers. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to continue building momentum in our efforts to make gambling safer.”

Concluding, Miller again reaffirmed that “We will not move at the pace of the slowest. We won’t use some positive data to take our foot off the accelerator. We won’t be distracted from the immediate challenges and risks by the longer term policy debate. We will keep building momentum.”