Warren Russell, CEO at W2, writes for SBC on the long-awaited review of the Gambling Act and the reasons why this presents a new opportunity for the industry to enact real change in the player protection space.
Cast your eyes back to 2020. Many of us will remember this as a time when the UK was slowly starting to emerge from the depths of the global pandemic. But for the gambling industry this was the time when the corridors of Whitehall were filled with ministers looking to review the Gambling Act.
Since that time a lot has changed at Westminster – including the government itself. But with the publishing of the paper having been pushed back several times despite pressure from the regulator rising, and rumours that the unsettled Government may abandon the review, at W2 we have taken a look at where we find ourselves.
Another day, another … delay?
The Gambling Act review has now been pushed back multiple times, with the latest delay relating to the announcement that Boris Johnson was to step down as Prime Minister. Since then we have had two Prime Ministers: Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, neither of whom have explicitly stated what we can expect from the upcoming review.
But since the review was first announced, there has been a growing pressure on the UK Gambling Commission to release the highly anticipated white paper.
At W2, more and more we are hearing of operators being fined for player protection and social responsibility failings, and without clearer guidance from the regulator on how to prevent these fines, the trend is set to continue.
If we look at the data, we’ve seen that more than £150m in fines have been issued by the UKGC since 2016. It’s obvious that there is a clear disconnect between what operators believe is an acceptable safer gambling process, and how that information is being communicated by the regulator itself.
One such reason that we might not have seen the UKGC publish any information about the review is that the regulator has its eyes on other global markets – with this information potentially being used to shape the UK’s regulations.
Movin’ on up
Obviously the gambling industry can not just sit back, put its feet up and hope that someone, somewhere, decides to release the findings of the Gambling Act review. As a collective, we need to move forward.
One slight spanner in the works, however, is that the industry is constantly changing. Since the Gambling Act was first published back in 2005 under the Tony Blair administration, the online gambling space has come along leaps and bounds. In fact, online betting is the norm for many punters nowadays.
And with the World Cup on the horizon, which is no doubt going to result in a huge influx of new bettors signing up to different websites, we must really be on our A-game when it comes to social responsibility and player protection.
Across the industry as a whole, we have seen some tremendous changes in the CSR space. Just this year alone, we have seen operators, suppliers and affiliates alike place a centralised focus on safer gambling being a priority and a sense of collaboration amongst the industry to solve various problems associated with the industry at present.
Gamstop, Crucial Compliance, nChain and IDnow, just to name a few, are all leading the way in creating innovative solutions that operators can implement to strengthen player protection.
This just goes to show that as an industry, we have so many different resources that we can pull together to enact real change. Instead of the responsibility simply being placed on the regulator, we should each be looking at new ways that we can truly protect bettors.
One thing that we do really need, however, is a universal set of standards that operators can follow. Much of the work operators are doing into developing their player protection initiatives would be a lot more straightforward if they were able to follow clear guidance.
At W2, we play a small part in a wider player protection journey. Our newly released affordability solution has had astoundingly positive feedback from the industry with many operators interested in developing it for their specific use case. Combining that with W2’s source of funds verification tool can allow operators to identify at-risk customers at onboarding, avoiding fines and suspensions and keeping their customers safe.
In September, the UKGC introduced official guidance to ensure that operators can identify gambling-related harm and act in a timely manner.
So what does that mean now? Well, the next phase of the Gambling Act review should be under way and will seek insights from the UKGC on how to implement measures which identify financially vulnerable customers and tackle unaffordable gambling.
The interest in W2’s new affordability solution is proof that operators are interested in more than a tick box regulatory exercise.
Unfortunately though, two years on from the initial announcement that we would see a review of the Gambling Act, there has been very little change aside from the glaring disconnect between the betting industry and the regulator that governs it.
Whilst that fractured relationship is clear to see, it’s fair to say that both parties and all stakeholders remain firmly committed to enacting real change for the future of the industry as a whole.
More can be done but we are confident that more will be done.