As we have reported, gambling regulation continues to be under intense scrutiny, with a new consultation from the ASA on protecting children from advertising that may particularly appeal to them, a CAP consultation on new guidance on advertising in-game purchases and loot boxes, and a UK government call for evidence on loot boxes, not to mention an imminent review of wider gambling laws across the UK. Now the Gambling Commission is entering the fray with a consultation about protecting consumers online.
The Commission says that remote gambling operators already have the tools to identify customers who may be harmed by gambling. However, it says that its casework has shown that when implementing the customer interaction requirements and associated guidance, many operators have set thresholds for interaction too high, including financial thresholds set at tens of thousands of pounds. They have made their responses to risk too slow and complicated, and failed to act on intelligence they receive about potential vulnerability.
Therefore, it is consulting on stricter requirements aiming to ensure remote gambling operators do more to identify consumers who may be harmed by gambling and to interact and take action sufficiently early and effectively to prevent harm. Although the Commission can take enforcement action against individual operators, it wants minimum standards to be implemented consistently across the industry.
A key requirement would be that online gambling operators must act on information they have about a consumer’s vulnerability. The Commission also wants to set thresholds for operators to conduct defined affordability assessments. It is asking for evidence on what the thresholds for these affordability assessments should be, the nature of these affordability assessments and how operators are required to protect consumers following an assessment.
It recognises that there is a need to strike the right balance between allowing consumer freedom and ensuring that there are protections in place to prevent gambling that would have an adverse financial and health impact on consumers – operators need to understand when consumers are gambling beyond their means. It also wants to minimise the risk of unintended consequences.
Gambling operators are currently required to conduct customer interaction in a way that minimises the risk of consumers experiencing harm from gambling, to take specific actions to identify, interact with consumers and understand the impact of their actions. They must also take account of the Commission’s customer interaction guidance for remote operators. The Commission wants to make its requirements stronger and clearer and therefore proposes introducing new Social Responsibility Code requirements into LCCP (Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice), the Commission’s rule book, and to replace the existing customer interaction guidance document for remote operators with a new customer interaction manual.
The consultation ends on 12 January 2021. Afterwards, the Commission intends to carry out a short supplementary consultation on the final draft requirements and guidance, including the thresholds that may be set for affordability assessments.
(Thanks to Helen Hart for the factual elements of this article.)
"Whilst some operators have continued to improve their customer interaction processes, our evidence shows that many online operators are not setting thresholds for action at appropriate levels. They are not taking the appropriate action or acting quickly enough when they do identify risks of potential harm." Tim Miller, Executive Director