Thursday, 21 January 2021

Gambling Business Group Criticises Gambling Affordability Checks

Gambling Affordability Checks

The cross-sector Gambling Business Group (GBG) has criticised the UK Gambling Commission’s proposed affordability checks, describing them as “prohibition by another name”.

Last year, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) launched a consultation for feedback on affordability checks on gamers in the United Kingdom, and the Government is set to consider the proposal as part of its 2005 Gambling Act review.

The GBG has criticised the affordability check proposal, claiming that the checks could spark an increase in gamers playing at unlicensed websites, that it risks increasing the “low incidence of problem gambling”, and will undo all of the work done by gambling operators, the UKGC, and gambling charities and organisations.

In a statement via iGaming Business, Peter Hannibal, the Chief Executive at GBG, said of the Commission’s proposals: “I would like to stress from the outset that although the Gambling Commission’s affordability proposal has been framed in relation to online players, it would be naive in the extreme to assume that the principles and philosophy will not be extended to all gambling entertainment activities across all verticals including adult gaming centres, licensed betting offices, and bingo clubs in some shape or form.”

Hannibal then explained that his main concern regarding tighter affordability checks is that they may push UK gamers from regulated and safe websites to those which are unregulated, a concern the Betting and Gaming Council has echoed too, but the UK Gambling Commission dismissed this week.

“Currently, the demand to play on unregulated sites is limited, but the unintended and I assume unforeseen consequences of affordability checks will be to create such a market and then to sustain it,” Hannibal continued. “Make no mistake, this is prohibition by another name, and wherever you look in the world, prohibition has never worked and will never work, more than often creating exactly the set of problems that it sets out to address.”

Further in the statement, Hannibal confirmed that he has contacted the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) about the Commission’s proposals, stating that it was “illogical” of the Commission to propose the new measures during the UK Government’s ongoing review of the Gambling Act 2005. Rather, Hannibal has suggested that the Commission should have made its proposals as part of the review.

He said: “The affordability proposal raises a huge range of quite fundamental ethical, legal and practical issues – not least a precedent for state intervention in consumer spending alongside a quite startling presumption that gambling entertainment, enjoyed responsibly by 99% of consumers, represents a public health issue way beyond that of tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption or obesity. As such, it merits much deeper, evidence-based scrutiny.”

The GBG’s comments come after the UK Gambling Commission released a statement earlier this week criticising the “exaggerated” concerns of the illegal online gambling black market in the UK as well as concern regarding the over-regulation of gambling sites in the country. In a letter to a cross-party committee of MPs, UKGC Chief Executive Neil McArthur said:

“We know that licensed operators and their trade bodies are concerned about the impact of the illegal black market, but our own evidence suggests that the impact may be being exaggerated. In any event, we are not convinced by the argument that suggests that raising standards in the licensed market will prompt consumers to gamble with illegal operators.”

Gross Gambling Yield Drops, According To UKGC

The news also comes after the UK Gambling Commission has published a report revealing the impact of Covid-19 on the online gambling industry. The Commission’s report covers the period between March and November 2020, and it revealed that while there was a 3% month-on-month increase in online accounts and a 4% increase in overall bets in November 2020, gross gambling yield (GGY) dropped 13% in the same month to a total of £471.5 million.

Meanwhile, the Commission reported that slots GGY increased by 3% to nearly £177 million. The number of bets on slots increased by 4%, and the number of active accounts increased in November by 1% too. What’s more, the Commission reported that the number of online slots sessions lasting longer than an hour had increased by 3% between October and November, and it has reported that the average session length increased by one minute to 22 minutes.

In its report, the Gambling Commission reiterated the importance of extra operator vigilance, particularly during England’s coronavirus lockdown, since most people across the country will be spending more time at home and feeling vulnerable as a result of the pandemic and its implications on their financial circumstances. The Commission also said attention is needed as some consumers are likely to spend more time and money gambling during lockdown while others will try gambling for the first time.

The Commission ended its report by confirming that it will continue to track Covid-19 related risks by assessing the impact of the guidance it issued to operators, by collecting and publishing all data gathered, and by supporting the industry including land-based venues as they adjust to ongoing restrictions.

The report follows a statement the UKGC released earlier this month urging casino operators to continue protecting players during lockdown. Like in this week’s report, the Commission reminded its licensees that “extra operator vigilance” is needed during England’s lockdown and urged the operators to follow the guidance the Commission issued back in March 2020 during the first lockdown.

Neil McArthur stated: “As the nation moves into lockdown once again in response to the rising rates of Coronavirus, I wanted to take the opportunity to remind you of the need to ensure that you are protecting your customers during this difficult time.

“The gambling industry and daily life as a whole continues to be impacted by the pandemic and whilst there is some light and hope ahead with the vaccine, I want to ensure operators are clear of our expectations. Since March we have all adapted to new ways of working and this new phase will be a challenge for us all. However, operators must now more than ever continue to be vigilant to protect their customers.”