SBC News UK Gambling warned of vital interplays as Affordability Checks blur spotlight

UK Gambling warned of vital interplays as Affordability Checks blur spotlight

Yesterday’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) showcased the distinct opinions of key political actors at the centre of delivering the change needed to future-proof UK gambling. 

“There is never a dull moment in our industry,” stated BGC CEO Michael Dugher, opening the proceedings of the AGM held at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster.

Dugher acknowledged the breakneck 12-months of developments since last April’s publication of the Gambling Review’s White Paper and its proceeding consultation phase to settle the terms of UK gambling’s regulatory future. Preceding the AGM, on Monday MPs had debated the affordability checks scheme as proposed by the White Paper, recognised as a key mandatory protection but dividing opinion on the feasibility of its mechanisms.

Michael Dugher, BGC
Michael Dugher: BGC

Michael Dugher: BGC is the best vehicle for change

“I’m sure we all watched the debate on Monday, certainly no dull moment in Parliament,” echoed Dugher, “By any standards, this has been an eventful year for our industry, with the biggest changes to our industry that we have seen for a generation. For the next 12-months, we commit to delivering those changes. But perhaps we will see a change in government…who knows.”

Steering the industry through its generational change, Dugher underlined the trade body’s founding mission to represent “an industry which supports 110,000 jobs, generates £7.1bn for the economy, and raises £4.2bn in tax”.

Four years after its foundation, Dugher proclaimed the BGC had proven its worth as the “best industry body”, representing a British business sector, dedicated to “Our mission, on behalf of millions of customers and tens of thousands of employees, is to stand up for our industry,” he said.

“Not merely to accept change or simply manage change. But to shape it, to influence it, to deliver it. This is a world-leading industry. We should be proud of it. And we will continue to fight for it.”

SBC News UK Gambling warned of vital interplays as Affordability Checks blur spotlight
Stuart Andrew: DCMS

Stuart Andrew: Racing Levy as important as Affordability Checks 

The opening statement was followed by DCMS undersecretary Stuart Andrew. Recognising that UK gambling faces a raft of adjustments, Andrew provided an update on the DCMS programme of work to ensure clarity on the direction of travel.

2024 sees the White Paper enter its technical phase, in which measures must ensure that changes “strike a balance between consumer freedom – preserving the rights of those who enjoy gambling and suffer no ill-effects”.

DCMS stands by the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) endorsement of “a comprehensive range of measures that covers every aspect of the industry, reflecting the huge changes in the gambling landscape since 2005”.

Andrew acknowledged the onerous process to deliver UK gambling’s new terms of play, but stated “I make no apologies for emphasising the importance of the consultations undertaken by the Government and the Gambling Commission. They have given us invaluable evidence to inform policy making. They ensure that the measures are robust, proportionate, and in line with the White Paper’s objectives. And they show that the Government is listening to your views and evidence.”

Clarity proceeds following last week’s announcement that the government will impose online staking limits of £2 for players accounts of 18 to 24 and £5 for over 25s – deemed by DCMS to be a “proportionate response”.

DCMS focus turns to the Gambling Commission’s two-tiered pilot scheme, involving credit reference agencies and a selection of gambling businesses to test affordability checks on customers. The Commission’s pilot scheme must ensure that checks are “genuinely frictionless” as determined by the White Paper.

“We are clear that financial risk checks should not overregulate the gambling sector, should not unduly disrupt the millions of people who gamble without suffering harm, and should not cause unnecessary damage to the industry.”

Further directives will see DCMS move UK gambling’s agenda beyond its technical remit to deal with key relationships with wider stakeholders, in which a new levy needs to be amended for UK racing – an issue left outside of the White Paper.

“As there is currently no legislative opportunity to amend the levy, I have encouraged the betting and racing industries to work together on a voluntary deal. I am very grateful for the constructive manner in which those negotiations have taken place.

“We said in the White Paper that we will ensure that racing is appropriately funded going forward, and I am confident that agreement can be reached which is mutually beneficial and is in the best interests of the sport.”

SBC News UK Gambling warned of vital interplays as Affordability Checks blur spotlight
Stephanie Peacock: Labour

Labour to hold National Lottery accountable on safer gambling duties

UK Gambling’s regulatory settlement is played out against the backdrop of a General Election looming. Up next, Labour Shadow Minister for Sports and Media Stephanie Peacock stated that “there is much crossover between both camps, as there is a general consensus on gambling’s regulatory needs”.

“Labour recognises that almost half of UK adults gamble in some form or other, with the majority doing so safely and in moderation. From bingo to the races, many forms of gambling are considered part of our heritage.”

Peacock cited that the outcome of the White Paper proposals was vital as the “UK can set the global standard in gambling regulation of a multi-billion sector”.

Yet of distinction, Labour is aware of unbalanced demands on safer gambling duties brought forward by BGC members on the National Lottery. “I know of the frustrations that the National Lottery was not included in the Gambling Review and remains exempt from many measures and protections both voluntary and compulsory”.

“I want to make it clear that any future Labour government will ensure that the National Lottery takes its fair share of responsibility for Safer Gambling,” Peacock stated.

Peacock concluded that Labour was fully aware of the complex dynamics and interplays governing gambling, but that change was necessary at a time when UK consumers are facing inflation and cost of living anxieties.

SBC News UK Gambling warned of vital interplays as Affordability Checks blur spotlight
Andrew Rhodes: UKGC

Andrew Rhodes: Transparency is a two-way demand

The AGM’s afternoon proceedings were led by Andrew Rhodes, who reached year three of his tenure as CEO of the Gambling Commission, a point known as the death-knell of his predecessors.

Jokes aside, Rhodes reflected that “I hope we have a better, more constructive relationship today than when I first started as Commission Chief Executive almost three years ago. The last few years have not been easy and have not provided a straight-forward backdrop against which to build relationships”.

Though the discussion would likely focus on staking-limits and affordability checks, Rhodes highlighted the Commission’s day-to-day work on improving compliance standards and customer care engagements, in which “the picture is a much more positive one.”

Current concerns will see the Commission target “operators we classify as being tier 2, 3, and 4. Our casework seems to support this, as compliance is lower in some of these areas and data also indicates possible displacement of higher risk customers into some of these operators.”

Rhodes reflected that his tenure had played out against operators navigating the challenges of a COVID-19 pandemic, and reforming a scrutinised Commission on the principles of driving higher standards and enacting compliance at the earliest opportunity.

Yet unlike wider business sectors, even headwinds from a global pandemic did not slow the growth of UK gambling as “for the first time, Gross Gambling Yield (GGY) in Great Britain topped £15 billion in the year to March 2023. And that shows a 6.6 percent uptick on what GGY was in the last pre-Covid stats that we have.”

The White Paper’s consultation phase has demanded that the Commission detail transparency on its proposals and enforcements. Yet Rhodes noted that the demand is a two-way affair for incumbents. “As for the purposes of transparency I wanted to say today, we see that Return to Player figures have dropped for a number of your businesses and products. Plenty of businesses across plenty of sectors have taken steps to keep profits up in challenging times. It is not our job as the gambling regulator to necessarily take a view on this at present.”

On the perceived challenges of growth that future regulatory outcomes will impose, Rhodes responded: “I would just pose the question: given the figures I mentioned earlier where participation is flat over several years, what growth do you think you should have but you do not?”

As such the UKGC from improved outcomes, as Rhodes noted: “I doubt anyone in this room today could argue that as the regulator we could have been ‘talking up’ the industry in recent years given some of the enforcement issues we’ve seen. We are not here to champion the industry, that is what you have the BGC for.”

SBC News UK Gambling warned of vital interplays as Affordability Checks blur spotlight
Brigid Simmonds

Brigid Simmonds: Gambling must have voice in RET levy structure 

The AGM concluded with the outgoing statement of Chair Brigid Simmonds, who noted that the trade body had fulfilled its mission to unify the industry and recognise its relationship with wider industries.

Simmonds warned MPs that regulatory change must ensure UK gambling’s protections against black market exposure – “as we have seen that in other European markets, where deficient practices have led to exposure reaching 30% – whilst the UK remains at 2 to 3%”.

Concluding affairs at the BGC, Simmonds cited her disappointment at the industry being withdrawn from the key debate of the reform of problem gambling’s research, education, and treatment levy and strategy. 

Simmonds stated that gambling leadership must find a way to be re-engaged in the discussion to ensure an effective structure protecting consumers – a key objective which by driving change, will ensure that UK gambling Plcs return in value and status.

The BGC ends its 2024 AGM, as political actors sing from the same hymn sheet, but the tune somehow continues to be distorted.

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