DCMS demands further ‘proactive steps’ to protect punters during lockdown

The government has urged UK gambling operators to ramp up its protection measures during the COVID-19 lockdown in a bid to mitigate what it has described as a “heightened risk of problem gambling”.

In a letter to five chief executives of the largest gambling companies, the sports minister Nigel Huddleston (DCMS) has emphasised that “messages warning of risks and signposting to support need to be more obvious for all potential customers.”

Huddleston called upon Bet 365, Ladbrokes and Coral owner GVC, SkyBet, William Hill and Flutter to go beyond the proposals laid out in the Betting and Gaming Council’s ten-point pledge, and inform people of sources of support such as GambleAware

The minister further requested “regular and comprehensive internal data around online gambling habits” following lockdown measures, and issued a reminder to the operators of their responsibility to protect players.

Huddleston said: “As we stay at home and spend more time online, it is vital that no stone is left unturned in protecting people from gambling-related harm.

“Whilst overall gambling participation has fallen in recent weeks and the industry has made notable contributions to support the national response, we must take proactive steps now, and keep these measures under review.

“I expect patterns of play to be closely monitored so we can move quickly if there is any evidence of problem gambling increasing. I also want more to be done to promote responsible gambling during the pandemic.”

Huddleston also requested that the gambling sector speeds its industry-led review, which seeks to consider potential curbs on controversial VIP schemes, advertising technology and game design.

The letter also requested an update on spending figures relating to both research and prevention of problem gambling, including a pledge to spend £100m over four years on treating problem gamblers.

At the start of April, the UK Gambling Commission revealed its new industry action plan on standards related to VIP engagements, advertising and game features.

The standards had been co-developed by the new Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) in collaboration with ‘working groups’ formed by industry leadership.

The measures included: restricting and preventing customers under 25 years of age from being recruited to high-value customer schemes; cross-referencing all customers with the appropriate spend, safer gambling and enhanced due diligence measures before qualifying for VIP schemes; and a full audit of all operator reward programmes, detailing ‘decision making’ and demonstrate senior oversight and accountability.

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