UKGC CEO Andrew Rhodes: Industry is ‘nowhere near’ an ideal world

In an ideal world, the UK Gambling Commission would have “little to do” yet, reflecting on the compliance throughout the industry, Andrew Rhodes, CEO at the UKGC, stressed the company is “nowhere near that”.

Discussing the topic during Safer Gambling Week, Rhodes also emphasised the need to see “much more greater compliance” from the industry across the board, while also comparing the role of the UKGC to that of a football referee. 

“I’m a big football fan and a long-time supporter of Swansea City (no need, I’ve heard them all),” joked Rhodes. “As any football fan will tell you, the best matches are when you don’t notice the referee. Clean competition, where no one’s hurt and everyone goes home having been entertained. 

“I sometimes think there are a lot of parallels between the job of a football ref and our job at the Gambling Commission.

“In an ideal world, we would have little to do. But we’re nowhere near that. The last few years is a tale of escalating enforcement by the Commission, not less. Now we want to get to that ideal, with the level of harm caused by gambling dwindling and having a constructive and collaborative relationship with industry can be part of how we get there. 

“From my meetings with industry, I know operators want that too. But if we want a grown-up relationship, we need to start from shared facts.”

On the perception of gambling, Rhodes was firm in stating that “gambling is normal” and the industry, and people outside, “shouldn’t shy away from it”. 

“First, gambling is normal. Some will attack that statement, but we shouldn’t shy away from it,” the CEO commented.” “Over 40 per cent of the population gambled in the last four weeks and over half of them did so online. That’s tens of millions, buying a lottery ticket, betting on sport, playing bingo and the rest.

“But another fact we shouldn’t shy away from is that gambling exists to make a profit, taking money from its customers. At over £14bn, gambling in Great Britain is the size of British agriculture. £450 per second was lost by people gambling in Great Britain in 2019/20. For millions, this is the cost of having a good time.”

Whilst stressing that gambling is normal, Rhodes did emphasise that for hundreds of thousands of people it is problem gambling and it is harmful. 

He continued: “It’s people suffering from financial, mental and physical harm because of either their own gambling or that of their loved ones or friends. It’s real, life-changing and can happen to anyone.

“It’s also a churning, changing group of people too. There is nothing static about it.

“Gambling is normal but harm must not be. We will continue to work to drive the levels of harm down. There are still far too many operators not abiding by our rules and that is not acceptable.

“We want a constructive relationship with the industry. But it must be on the basis of compliance and for all the good efforts made, we still see too many instances of things that everyone agrees are things we should not be seeing. These things are not historic – they are happening now.

“And this is why the single customer view project is such a great opportunity for the industry.”

On the project, Rhodes said that it is “not some Big Brother-style ‘gamblers register’” but a tool to help operators solve their problems. 

Making comparisons to the pub industry, Rhodes noted: “Look at pubs. There is a point where a pub landlord will stop serving you, often as much for your own good as it is for their business. And other pubs won’t serve that same customer either. 

“Good operators don’t want to serve a customer who has already had enough elsewhere. The single customer view is about preventing just that. We know it’s technically possible. The ICO has published on how it can be done safely, protecting people’s data. It’s now for the industry to trial a solution.

Speaking on the future, Rhodes explained that the road ahead is clear and so is the commission. He concluded: “We are more focused than ever on our core purpose of making gambling fairer, safer and crime-free. We want to collaborate with the gambling industry in this work. But to do so we all need to face the facts.”