SBC News Tim Miller: Evidence leads UKGC on Gambling Review’s most contentious issues 

Tim Miller: Evidence leads UKGC on Gambling Review’s most contentious issues 

Addressing the ‘Regulating the Game Conference’ (25 September 2023), Tim Miller, Executive Director of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has shed detailed insights on the regulator’s progress towards settling the most contentious issues of the UK Gambling Review. 

The Commission’s Executive Director for policy development addressed an international audience providing in-depth context on the UK government’s generational review of laws governing the British gambling sector and its impact on consumers and relevant stakeholders. 

Having initiated the Gambling Review’s consultation phase on proposed recommendations, a reorganised body oversees “60 areas of work and at the Gambling Commission we are clear this will likely take a number of years to fully complete”.

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t make rapid progress in a number of key areas and as many of you will already be aware of, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing over the summer.” 

The endeavour sees the Commission recognise the unique make-up of the UK gambling sector which stands as the world’s largest licensed online marketplace (+£10bn yield excluding lotteries) with high levels of channelisation and consumer choice, marked by innovations and intense competition by licensed operators.

Despite its generational review, the Commission and DCMS stands by the principal intent of the 2005 Gambling Act which established the core objectives of preventing crime, ensuring fairness, and protecting vulnerable consumers – underlying objectives that guide the Commission’s policy development.

UKGC clear on objective of Affordability Checks 

Having established the context of the Gambling Review, Miller moved onto the first contentious issue of ‘financial risk assessments’ proposed by the White Paper. Miller cited that misunderstandings on affordability checks were likely due to the complexity of the issues. 

However, he shared the same opinion as Commission CEO Andrew Rhodes that a complex subject had been tainted by “deliberate misinformation meant to obscure the debate and hinder the implementation of the Government’s policy.”

Handling a contentious matter, it was underlined that the Commission had always prioritised implementing frictionless financial risk assessments primarily conducted via a credit reference agency, causing no impact on consumer credit scores. 

The Commission stands by the White Paper estimate that only 3% of gambling accounts will be required to undertake light checks. Meanwhile in cases where credit reference checks are required, customers will be requested to consent to limited data sharing via a third-party open banking provider, impacting an estimated 0.3% of accounts.

Financial vulnerability checks will be ‘light touch’, he added. Under current plans, the checks will use public data to check ‘around 20% of accounts’ to see if bettors are financially at risk, such as bankruptcy, and significantly there will be no ‘blanket rules’. 

Responding to concerns over misconceptions Miller asserted: “Ultimately, I would urge anyone who is interested in this consultation, especially if you’ve been worried about what you may have heard, to actually read what we’ve published at the start of September and then share your views.”

Industry trusted on ombudsman duties 

Both the Commission and the DCMS are currently engaged in consultations with gambling reform stakeholders, including of course operators and suppliers themselves, with the first round set to end on 18 October 2023.

From Miller’s observations, the industry has taken leadership on one key area – the creation of an ombudsman. The government is currently looking to ‘quickly introduce’ an ombudsman via voluntary industry measures – a pragmatic solution which will deliver consumer benefits sooner, Miller acknowledged.

“We look forward to seeing what the BGC proposes in this space and we, alongside the Ombudsman Association, will be providing DCMS with our analysis of any proposals,” he said.

However, although the industry is taking leadership in this area, its plans and proposals are not guaranteed for success. Miller asserted that the Commission will not support the industry’s ombudsman proposals if it does not meet ‘the accepted standard’.

He continued: “In short, we will not hardwire into our rule book a model of redress that is compromised and does not deliver for the consumers.”

The Commission expects industry leadership, or at least strong contributions, on other areas of betting reform such as the Single Customer View (SCV), a long-standing objective of the regulator to achieve greater player protection.

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has been working with the Commission to develop a pilot on this, and Miller explained that the Commission is expecting an update ‘on the progress of this project before it is expanded to cover more operators and more consumers’.

Miller on methodology

For its part, the Commission seems primarily focused on improving data collection. Again, this has been a common talking point of UKGC leadership throughout the course of the Gambling Act review.

This was also something Miller – alongside UKGC Chief Executive, Andrew Rhodes, and Deputy Chief Executive, Sarah Gardner – outlined as a core priority to MPs earlier this month.

In his recent speech, MIller doubled down on data, explaining that “a key area where the Commission will make a major contribution to White Paper implementation will be improving the data and improving the evidence base”.

He continued: “With a pilot conducted in full and published last year already, our new Participation and Prevalence survey, the Gambling Survey of Great Britain will launch early next year. 

“When it’s fully rolled out it will be the largest survey of its type anywhere in the world, and will become the new gold standard for participation and prevalence data in Great Britain, with updated questions for the digital age and predictable, regular data for study. 

“We’ve been testing and refining the methodology since we published the results of the pilot and have been updating the stakeholder groups who helped us design it – from operators, academics and lived experience – along the way.”

DCMS, meanwhile, will take the lead on one of the most important and widely debated aspects of the White Paper, the RET levy. The consultation on this issue is due to commence after the first round ends in late October, with finance risk checks and game design the current focus.

Whilst Miller was not able to divulge any insights on how DCMS will handle the RET levy consultation, he made clear what the Commission expects from betting stakeholders and what the regulator’s ultimate continues to be.

Consultation is the Best Opportunity to hear evidence

In its policy outlook, Miller concluded by emphasising that the Commission will prioritise evidence-based changes to regulate gambling effectively on the principles of  ensuring it is safe, fair, and free from crime.

Continuous collaboration and progress in implementing the recommendations from the White Paper require input from all relevant stakeholders impacted by the UK gambling sector.

He concluded: “I started today stating that the Gambling Act Review is perhaps the best opportunity to make evidence-based changes to the way gambling is regulated in Great Britain since the 2005 Act was passed.

“That it is an unmissable opportunity to make gambling safer, fairer and crime free. So now is the time to push on and make sure that over the next couple of years we make the most of it.”

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