David Clifton: Licensing Expert – Time for remote operators to focus on GamStop

David Clifton

GamStop – it’s been a long time coming, but it’s here now (at least in a “test” phase), and somewhere in the coming “weeks and months”, to quote Tim Miller, Executive Director of the Gambling Commission, the one month notification period under LCCP social responsibility code provision 3.5.5 will be triggered by the Commission.

At the expiry of that one month period, all remote B2C licence-holders must participate in this new national multi-operator self-exclusion scheme. However, it was stressed at a Commission Remote Sector meeting on 18 May that if operators wait until the notification is given by the Commission to start the GamStop integration process, they will have insufficient time to ensure compliance once that month expires.

The origin of GamStop can be traced back to July 2014 when, following two Responsible Gambling Trust (now GambleAware) reports, multi-operator self-exclusion was described as “a priority” and both the UK Government and the Gambling Commission very quickly expressed their keenness for such schemes to be developed.

By the following month, the Commission had published its consultation on changes to the LCCP proposing the introduction of national multi-operator self-exclusion schemes and, together with the Remote Gambling Association, had established a Working Group to determine how such a scheme would work in practice in the remote sector.

The Commission’s February 2015 “Strengthening social responsibility” document indicated that, whilst it had received a mixed response to its proposed online scheme, “in general, industry respondents were supportive of the proposal and saw the benefits of it”. This led to the eventual incorporation of the new code provision within the LCCP in April 2016.

However, progress with a remote sector scheme lagged behind the non-remote sector. The land-based casino scheme (SENSE), launched by the National Casino Forum and its membership on 3 August 2015, was the first such national schemes and was followed by similar schemes for betting shops, bingo clubs and arcades.

In May 2015, the Gambling Commission published its briefing note on the national online self-exclusion system but it was not until August 2016 that the RGA was able to commence a scoping study for the development of that scheme (then called “NOSES”). It published an update in December 2016 and, in June 2017, announced that the scheme was to be re-named “GamStop” with the aim of it being fully implemented by the end of that year.

That aim was not achieved but:

  • on 14 December 2017, the RGA announced that “The Registration Form and the GAMSTOP Operator Side Implementation Guidance (GOSIG) are now available to enable the onboarding process for all (not just RGA members) British licensed online gambling operators to integrate with GAMSTOP in advance of the scheme going live in Spring 2018”,
  • on 1 March 2018, the RGA announced that “a dedicated GAMSTOP office has now been put in place. Therefore if you have any queries in relation to GAMSTOP the team can be reached on 01423 790354 or feel free to e-mail Fiona Palmer (fpalmer@gamstop.co.uk ) or Katie Reynolds-Jones ( KReynolds@gamstop.co.uk ) directly”, and
  • by 25 April 2018, the first implementation phase of GamStop had commenced, albeit still in test mode.

So when exactly will Gambling Commission trigger the one month notification under SR code provision 3.5.5 so that the deadline for all affected operators starts running?

In advance of the Remote Sector meeting, I posed that question to the Commission in the absence of anything definitive on its online multi-operator self-exclusion scheme webpage. A spokesperson replied as follows:

  • “GamStop is the online industry’s solution to the Gambling Commission requirement that each sector developed a multi-operator self-exclusion scheme. The Commission’s code says that the relevant condition comes into force one month after the Commission confirm that a scheme is available”.
  • “We will do so once we have assurance that a scheme is fully and successfully operational. GamStop have decided to offer the service in advance of the licence condition coming into force”. 
  • “This has the advantage of making a multi-operator scheme for online available at the earliest opportunity. This first phase of the scheme will hopefully provide the Commission with evidence that a successful scheme is operational.”

More information was supplied at the Remote Sector meeting:

  • Not surprisingly with as ambitious a scheme as this, teething problems still exist but, from comments made by both Commission and GamStop personnel, it seems possible that the one month notification will be given in early Autumn or thereabouts.
  • Over 5,000 people have already signed up to self-exclude from the growing number of gambling websites that have registered so far (details of which can be found at https://www.gamstop.co.uk/participating-companies).
  • It was stressed that operators should not regard GamStop as replacing their own existing self-exclusion schemes.
  • The Commission is intending to focus its attention on the extent to which marketing still takes place to those who have self-excluded in breach of social responsibility code provision 3.5.3, whether through GamStop or under an operator’s own self-exclusion scheme.
  • The onus will remain on operators to ensure compliance on their part with ordinary code provision 3.5.4.
  • Operators should present the option of self-exclusion and other gambling tools in a positive manner to show that they enhance, rather than detract from, the customer’s gambling experience.

Remote operators who have not yet registered to participate in the GamStop scheme are being encouraged to do so as soon as possible and, in any event, in good time before the Commission’s one month deadline is imposed. They will need to:

  • complete and submit their qualification self-certification form to support@gamstop.co.uk
  • fully integrate with the scheme and send their live customers’ data to the GamStop Production Matching Service and
  • place the GamStop consumer-facing content live on their sites, including (a) an onsite display of the hyperlinked GamStop Logo, (b) information for responsible gambling pages on operator websites, (c) customer signposting following operator self-exclusion (for customers who have just self-excluded from individual operator sites) and (d) the following Gamstop customer contact details:  https://www.gamstop.co.uk Telephone: 0800 138 6518 (8am to midnight, 7 days a week).

With February’s Gambling Participation Survey revealing that 0.8% of all respondents identified themselves as problem gamblers and 3.9% as at-risk gamblers, regulatory concerns that gambling operators implement an effective self-exclusion scheme is clearly right at the top of the Commission’s agenda. Failings in this respect on the part of Sky Betting & Gaming, Tabcorp and LeoVegas (resulting in penalty packages totalling £1.7 million overall) have been publicised in just the last two months alone.

 These concerns are also likely to have played a large part in inclusion within the Commission’s recently published 2018/19 Business Plan that, amongst other things, calls upon the industry to design-in protections and control measures right from the start of product development, something that former Commission CEO, Sarah Harrison, spoke about in her farewell speech at ICE in February this year, when she said: we will look to operators, both B2B and B2C, to demonstrate how they are confident that the nature and features of their products are consistent with the licence and safer gambling. This is not just about putting in place mechanisms to mitigate harms after they have occurred, but it is about designing in protections to prevent harm in the first place”.

That Business Plan also states that in the 4th quarter of this year, the Commission will be looking to deliver enhanced consumer protection for online gambling in the areas of customer verification, fairness and interaction”. Bearing in mind the direct link between customer interactions and self-exclusion, I would urge operators to absorb all that is said in the Commission’s “Customer interaction guidance for remote gambling operators”, published in February 2018, the very same month that William Hill Group incurred a penalty package of £6.2million for failings in this and associated AML respects.

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David Clifton – Director – ‎Clifton Davies Consultancy Limited

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