SBC News Andrew Rhodes: UKGC message ‘starting to get through’ after string of enforcements

Andrew Rhodes: UKGC message ‘starting to get through’ after string of enforcements

The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) is on track with maintaining compliance standards and keeping up with the rapid changes of the industry, according to CEO Andrew Rhodes.

Rhodes addressed the 2022 IAGR Conference in Melbourne yesterday in a speech that summarised the Commission’s recent series of enforcement actions, which has seen penalties against the likes of Betfred, Betway and most notably Entain.

Long arm of the law

Making comparisons with previous fiscal years, Rhodes observed that the UKGC handed out financial penalties against three companies during the course of 2016/17. In contrast, during the past 10 months the regulator has charged 16 operators a total of £45m (2016/17: £1.7m). SBC News Andrew Rhodes: UKGC message ‘starting to get through’ after string of enforcements

“At this volume, we think the message is starting to get through,” he said. “And we refuse to accept the pace of the slowest when we are confronted by recent stories of people suffering as a result of preventable harm.”

Commenting further on legal and legislative areas, Rhodes advised the Australian audience that balancing player protection with freedom of choice ‘is an issue for each jurisdiction to look at themselves’.

The CEO stated that this is an area that the much-delayed Gambling Act review – the publication of which is now uncertain due to political instability at Westminster – aims to address. 

Commenting further on the review, Rhodes added that the White Paper’s release ‘may lead to further impacts on the gambling sector and potentially a further round of mergers and acquisitions’. 

Costs of living – global outlook

The costs of living crisis is a topic of regular discussion in the UK, with businesses, families and individuals rightly concerned about rising bills, rent and prices – it is of course, however, not just a British issue.

The main purpose of Rhodes’ speech in Melbourne, as the CEO set out in his introduction, was to provide the audience with a snapshot of any future trends they can expect to see in Australia. 

“In Great Britain we’re also seeing two other big drivers on operator and consumer behaviour starting to impact on the market,” he continued.

“The first is the cost of living. No doubt there are similar stories to varying degrees in many of your jurisdictions, but increases in the cost of living appear to be leading to operators starting to make changes to their staffing and operations – even before we see much evidence of it affecting consumer gambling spend.”

This has seen revenue from a number of large operators decline, with safer gambling measures such as stake limits and affordability measures often cited, such as in the case of 888 yesterday.

Rhodes informed that operators have also pointed to a decline in revenue from high spending customers and a ‘pivot’ towards lower spenders, with ‘two of the largest gambling groups in the UK’ referring this trend to the Commission.

“These companies are major multinational operators and have made conscious choices to actively reduce reliance on high-risk and higher-spending customers,” Rhodes added. “I think this is significant.”

The new ‘black market’

An area that has been repeatedly highlighted of being of interest to the UKGC over the past year has been ‘emerging products’, which Rhodes was keen to stress did not refer to the ‘black market’ of unlicensed gambling.

Instead, the UKGC chief referred to NFTs, ‘synthetic shares’ and cryptocurrencies, betting industry interest of which has been on the rise of late – Entain’s Ennovate platform outlined probing NFTs as an objective, for example. 

“They are becoming increasingly widespread and the boundaries between products which can be defined and regulated as gambling are becoming increasingly blurred,” Rhodes commented on the range of emerging products.

“We are likely to see more and more integration of these types of products into sport and other areas of lifestyle, as well as the legitimate gambling industry. These are lucrative growth areas, and we ignore them at our peril.” SBC News Andrew Rhodes: UKGC message ‘starting to get through’ after string of enforcements

Actions indicative of the UKGC’s investigations of the area notably include the evaluation of Sorare, which the regulator launched to assess whether or not the NFT-based fantasy sports platform could be classed as a gambling product.

Moving forward

Lastly, Rhodes pointed to one of the UKGC’s more prominent long-running objectives – the development of a Single Customer View (SCV).

In the CEO’s view, this is a tool that can prove highly beneficial to both Australia and the UK, particularly in the latter following the recent onslaught of regulatory penalties for customer care failures.

The SCV could ‘drastically reduce harm’, according to Rhodes, and could walk the aforementioned balancing act by keeping customer data secure whilst giving operators a ‘full view’ of risk profiles. 

It would also minimise the danger of vulnerable customers bouncing from operator to operator after self-excluding due to problem gambling behaviour, he asserted.

“All of the operators could behave sensibly and reasonably, but there is nothing that would stop a customer experiencing serious gambling-related harm across multiple operators.

“The single customer view will allow operators to be alerted to customers who have been excluded by another operator due to concerns about their level of gambling, thus breaking this circuit,” he said.

Concluding, Rhodes stated that the UKGC is planning a trial ‘in the coming months’ to test the SCV, which he argued has the potential ‘to be a significant step change in improving the safety of gambling’.

Lastly, he also expressed optimism that greater sharing of data and intelligence, the adoption of common approaches and better international coordination can lead to ‘globalised progress across a globalised marketplace’.

SBC News Andrew Rhodes: UKGC message ‘starting to get through’ after string of enforcements

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