SBC News Legal Eye: Source of funding guidance... Two steps forward and one step back

Legal Eye: Source of funding guidance… Two steps forward and one step back

SBC News Legal Eye: Source of funding guidance... Two steps forward and one step back
Jessica Wilson: Harris Hagan

The Gambling Commission seeks to improve transparency on funding disclosures related to licensees and their investors, a remit needed to strengthen its regulatory oversight of UK Gambling.

Jessica Wilson, Gambling Law Associate of Harris Hagan provides her legal eye on newly released guidance from the Commission which aims to clarify the requirements for source of funding disclosures, but still leaves key areas unclear, particularly regarding specific evidence needed and how investor categories are defined.

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In July 2023, we discussed the trials and tribulations of source of funding disclosure and the lack of clarity provided by the Gambling Commission as to what is expected from applicants, licensees and their investors. At that time, our understanding was that the Gambling Commission would publish guidance on its website by the end of July 2023, although no guidance was published until the end of November 2023.

So now that we have the Gambling Commission’s guidance, do we have a clearer understanding of what the Gambling Commission requires?

What we were expecting

By way of recap, source of funding involves establishing the legitimacy of funds used to make an equity or non-equity investment in a licensee or operating licence applicant, or parent company. It is a complex area and the lack of formal or detailed guidance from the Gambling Commission has resulted in applicants and licensees playing a guessing game as to what they should be disclosing to the Gambling Commission and when. Over the years, the Gambling Commission’s expectations have grown to be burdensome and novel, following an unpublished approach.

We were hopeful that the Gambling Commission’s guidance, once published, would provide that much needed clarity for the industry, along with an explanation of the basis for the Gambling Commission’s requirements.

Our understanding was that the guidance would be non-exhaustive and include example source of funding scenarios. We also expected the guidance to explain how the Gambling Commission divides investors into two groups when determining its source of funding requirements – unregulated and regulated – and that set thresholds would be put in place to trigger source of funding requirements.

What we were given

The Gambling Commission’s source of funding guidance has been included as sections within its Change of corporate control web page and What you need to send us when you apply for an operating licence web page.

The guidance is defined as a “general overview of when and what source of funds evidence is required”, caveated with confirmation that the Gambling Commission will “assess each application on a case-by-case basis according to risk”. Whilst the guidance is clear on when source of funding evidence is required, there are still murky waters on what source of funding evidence is required.

The Gambling Commission has indeed divided investor types into buckets, but instead of two, there are three different buckets; (1) unregulated, (2) regulated banks or investment companies investing their own money, and (3) regulated banks or investment companies acting as intermediary for an investor or pool of investors i.e. investment funds / financial institutions.

Each bucket has multiple sub-categories, resulting in 12 different categories of investor.

Two steps forward and one step back

We are pleased the Gambling Commission has recognised (and listened!) that clarity was needed and decided to publish its source of funding guidance, giving the industry a basis for its source of funding requests. It is also positive that the Gambling Commission appears to be applying a risk-based approach as evidenced by the thresholds that trigger detailed source of funding requirements.

However, whilst helpful in some ways, the Gambling Commission’s source of funding guidance now raises new question marks:

  1. We had hoped the guidance would be separate formal guidance specific to source of funding. However, the guidance is buried within the Gambling Commission’s existing web pages that relate to change of corporate control and operating licence applications. Does the guidance and its investor categories apply in other source of funding situations such as capital raises and share issues that do not trigger a change of corporate control? We would expect the Gambling Commission to follow the same approach, but the position is unclear.
  2. We now have clarity on when the Gambling Commission expects detailed source of funding evidence, but what the Gambling Commission expects to be disclosed is still vague. For example, for unregulated entities the guidance states: “Typically for established entities the latest set of filed financial statements can be sufficient evidence…For recently established entities, evidence of how the entity has been funded is required”. In respect of unregulated individuals, the guidance states: “Evidence of the individual’s source of funds will depend on what the source of funds is but examples include bank statements, investment portfolio statements and P60s”. Importantly, the guidance lacks example source of funding scenarios, which we had expected. Unfortunately, the position of what must be disclosed is no clearer than it was before, and we can only rely upon our previous experience with the Gambling Commission.
  3. The Gambling Commission has used a combination of fixed figure and percentage thresholds to trigger source of funding disclosure. We understand the Gambling Commission’s intention is to take a risk-based approach, but it is questionable how this can be achieved if fixed figure thresholds are used, as there is the possibility that it could capture all investors, or none. For example, if a licensee received a £40,000 investment from 25 investors, totalling £1m, those individuals would not trip the £50,000 threshold and no detailed source of funding information would need to be disclosed. Conversely, if a licensee received a £1m investment from 20 individuals amounting to £50,000 each, detailed source of funding evidence is required for 100% of the investment. Testing every £ would be a risk-free approach, and not a risk-based approach.
  4. It is a step in the right direction that investment funds are considered by the Gambling Commission separately from other investors, with investment funds being placed in their own investor group. This is an acknowledgement from the Gambling Commission of the complexities of investments made through an intermediary. However, the Gambling Commission requires a “schedule of underlying investors” from the intermediaries but gives no detail as to what such schedule should include. In our view, it would be unnecessary to provide full details of underlying investors that do not meet the source of funding thresholds set out by the Gambling Commission, and that an anonymised schedule would be sufficient (and this has been sufficient in the past based on our experience). However, if the Gambling Commission does require personal details of all underlying investors, this will continue to be problematic for investment funds who often have complex confidentiality agreements in place with their underlying investors.
  5. FCA regulated entities that are underlying investors behind an investment fund are not treated the same as regulated entities that have made a direct investment. FCA regulated entities that have made a direct investment only need to disclose source of funding evidence if their investment is 10% or more of the total investment amount. However, if the FCA regulated entity is investing through an investment fund, that threshold percentage is reduced to 5%. It is not clear to us why there is a difference, particularly as FCA regulated entities should carry a lower risk, and our view is that there should be consistency.
  6. On 15 December 2023 the Commission launched a consultation in respect of proposed changes related to financial penalties and financial key event reporting. One of the proposals is to introduce a new requirement for gambling licensees to submit a key event to report details of (a) individuals who acquire the equivalent of £50,000 or more worth of new shares in a rolling 12-month period, or (b) entities that acquire the equivalent of £1m or more worth of new shares in a rolling 12-month period. This proposal intersects with the source of funding guidance as it follows the thresholds for unregulated individuals and entities. The consultation states that if the financial key event creates a new controller, no key event notification is required as long as all of the information that would be included in the key event is included in the CoCC application. However, should a CoCC take place whereby the licensee issued £11m of new shares, with £1m of which being acquired by an FCA-regulated entity (equating to 9% of the investment, so they are not a controller), that entity would not be required to disclose its funds under the guidance (as it is less than 10% of the investment), but would be required to disclose under the proposed key event, as it is £1m or more. The proposal is subject to consultation, but we believe it is important that the Commission takes a consistent approach to the thresholds at which source of funding evidence must be disclosed.

We are pleased that the Gambling Commission has finally published some source of funding guidance and it is certainly a step in the right direction. However, there are still areas of uncertainty and new questions that have been raised. We wait to see how the Gambling Commission puts the guidance into practice.

How we can help

Harris Hagan can navigate you through your engagement with the Gambling Commission on source of funding, minimising disclosure for you and your investors wherever possible, as well as offer source of funding training, tailored to the specific needs of your business. If you would like to discuss further, please do get in touch.

 

SBC News Legal Eye: Source of funding guidance... Two steps forward and one step back

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