UKGC has ‘no time’ for ‘overstated’ argument of black market risks

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has called on the government to acknowledge harmful gambling as a public health issue after publishing its long-awaited evidence-based review of gambling harms.

With the Gambling Act review and white paper seemingly around the corner, the UK Gambling Commission has faced countless warnings to consider the strictness of its upcoming regulatory changes.

A number of organisations, including the Betting and Gaming Commission, have urged the commission to find a balance between efficient regulation and player satisfaction, stating that the nation’s player base are at risk of turning to illicit platforms.

The UKGC’s Deputy Chief Executive, Sarah Gardner, addressed industry stakeholders at the Danish Gambling Authority’s recent industry event, making comparisons between the betting and gaming markets in the UK and Denmark. 

While explaining that industry stakeholders are concerned that customers could “jump from regulated gambling into unregulated gambling” if harsh restrictions are enforced, she reiterated that safe regulation is the priority.

“I cannot accept this argument,” she declared. “Indeed, I believe that no regulator should knowingly allow bad practices of the type we are talking about here, practices which can cause harm, to carry on in the regulated market. 

“And whilst we – like you – have a level of concern about illegal online gambling and it will always be an important focus for us, we have no time for those risks being overstated, without credible evidence, either.”

Towards the end of last year, the BGC laid out that strict regulations, focusing on blanket affordability checks, put companies at risk of losing players to black market services, stating that it could hinder the UK economy. 

Gardner disregarded the argument that the UKGC should “scale back or stop some of the interventions” necessary in the regulated market in order to mitigate this perceived threat.

Addressing the extent of unregulated activity throughout the UK, the regulator’s Deputy Chief Executive noted that illegal market sectors can often drive innovation. 

She pointed to emerging products such as NFTs, cryptocurrencies and synthetic shares, highlighting that the review will be sure to cover these areas as “gambling regulators need to be keeping watch”. 

Gardner continued: “They are becoming increasingly widespread and through them, what products can be defined and regulated as gambling is becoming increasingly blurred depending on each jurisdiction’s rules.

“For our part we are watching and whilst they are often beyond our remit, we will have questions of any operator who is taking risks in this space.

“A competitive sector that is always pushing the boundaries and innovating requires us as regulators to also constantly look to update, improve and innovate how we hold the sector to account and keep gambling fair, safe and crime-free.”

According to the UKGC Deputy Chief Executive, the review will have a “big impact on our work going forward this year”, detailing other areas that the regulator has been focusing on such as compliance standards, pointing to the £45m in regulatory penalties paid by 17 operators over the past year due to failures in this area.

Finally, Gardner also reiterated that the UKGC will continue to communicate with other regulators around the world to “deepen international collaboration” when it comes to player safety. 

She concluded: “We see greater collaboration amongst all gambling regulators across the world, as the essential next step in tackling the challenges that the global gambling market poses for us all.

“The more we share best practice, support each other in our work with multi-national operators and work towards higher standards for consumers across jurisdictions, the safer and fairer gambling will be for people everywhere.”