Andrew Rhodes, UKGC

Andrew Rhodes: Bold ideas needed to combat ‘shared threat’ of illegal gambling  

 Andrew Rhodes, Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), has stated that combating illegal gambling should be an arena of collaboration and forming best practices for all regulatory counterparts.

The statement was made by Rhodes as the keynote speaker of this year’s International Association of Gambling Regulators (IAGR) Conference (16 October, Gaborone, Botswana). 

Opening his address, Rhodes cited: “The gambling industry is a truly international business and many of the operators we regulate, and we licence around 2,300 of them, you will also see in your countries, but approaches and tactics will be different, though many of the challenges are the same.” 

Across all markets, Rhodes underlined the unique role of a gambling regulator ‘that has to sit in the middle’ of a deeply political marketplace, managing multiple interests and the expectations of diverse stakeholders.

The UK is an example of such a market, in which “some 22.5 million consumers, 44 percent of the adult population, engage in gambling of one form or another every year.” As such the UKGC is faced with difficult choices when implementing policies governing its gambling marketplace, Rhodes emphasised.

Yet meeting complex demands, the Commission stands by its initiative of launching transformative projects such as the ‘GamProtect’  – a pilot a multi-operator data sharing scheme needed to deliver a single customer view (SCV) of UK gambling, improving the sector’s holistic protection of consumers.

“This project has the long-term goal of making sure a gambler who risks suffering serious harms with one operator, will be protected by all operators, which I’m sure you’ll agree is an outcome worth working towards.

“We’re expecting a further update from Industry on this project before it is expanded to cover more operators and more consumers as a result.” 

Though gambling laws differ from country-to-country, regulators share a common concern in combating illegal gambling and collectively share the objectives of making their respective gambling markets safer, fairer, and crime-free. 

Countering illegal gambling is recognised as a complex matter dependent on existing laws, the make-up of a marketplace and how rules have been applied – factors that can impact the rate of channelisation.

Rhodes brands Great Britain by “international standards a liberal marketplace with high levels of channelisation, reported at 97.6%”. He continued: “Whilst the illegal online market exists in Great Britain as it does elsewhere, it is not a significant concern and this position hasn’t fundamentally changed. However, that does not mean there is no illegal market or no risk.”

As such since 2021/22 the UKGC has received additional funding to develop more resources to tackle illegal online gambling activities, in which the regulator has prioritised ‘intelligence-led disruption efforts’ on bad actors .

On the ground, the UKGC has worked in tandem with payment providers, search engines, internet service providers, software licensees, and social media platforms to block access to illegal websites. Rhodes advises regulatory counterparts to “work upstream on protecting consumers.”  

2021-to-2022 proceedings have seen the UKGC increase its enforcement on illegal gambling by over 500%. The success of enforcement has resulted in a 46% traffic reduction to illegal sites and blocking 17 of them from Google search results.

Further proactive measures have seen the Commission work with Mastercard to exclude payments to illicit/unlicensed websites.

Beyond collaboration with key stakeholders, Rhodes is an advocate that licensed operators should share expertise as combating illegal gambling should be viewed as a ‘shared risk’.   

We have made some good progress and when we receive the powers promised to the Commission in the Government’s White Paper we’ll be able to go further. Many of the results we have been able to achieve in disrupting illegal online gambling have only been possible through strong collaboration with others.”

Moving forward, the Commission is ready to support countries new to regulating online gambling, as evidenced by recent regulatory exchanges with regulators of North American jurisdictions. 

“The world is too big for any one of us to act as the World Police,” he summarised. “But working together, sharing experiences, we can achieve better outcomes for everyone. 

“As more and more countries look to regulate online gambling, we at the Commission are more than ready to work with them, to support them in establishing their regimes and indeed to learn from their experiences too.

“Last week we led a roundtable with 9 US and Canadian jurisdictions representing over 60 percent of the market in North America, to establish clear working relationships that will support all of us to be more effective. And I’m sure those won’t be the last.

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