The UK Gambling Commission has issued new guidance for online operators. It ensures that consumers are further protected following the publication of new evidence that shows some gamblers maybe at greater risk of harm during lockdown. Included in the guidance is the need for affordability checks, prevention of reverse withdrawals and restrictions on bonus offers.
The new guidance follows the Commission publishing data showing the impact that Covid-19 is having on consumers and the industry so far. Collected through the gambling industry and also through YouGov surveys this data shows that during lockdown gambling participation is down overall. This reflects the closure of land based venues and the cancellation of sporting events, with only a small number of people starting to gamble for the first time.
However, while there is no evidence to suggest an increase in problem gambling, the shift in the market as a result of Covid-19 evidence shows an increase in the use of certain gambling products such as online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports.
The majority of those gambling indicate that they have not increased the time or money they have spent, two thirds (64%) of more engaged gamblers reported that they have increased the time or money that they are spending on at least one online gambling activity including National Lottery products.
The data also shows that in terms of time spent gambling, while overall session length has decreased, there has been an increase in the number of sessions that are played for over an hour
The Commission has reviewed its current guidance in light of the risks that some players may be experiencing harm while in lockdown, and online operators must now take account of the Commission’s additional guidance, which makes clear they should:
- Prevent reverse withdrawal options for customers until further notice 
- Cease to offer bonuses or promotions to all customers who are displaying indicators of harm
- Interact with customers who have been playing for an hour in a single session of play
- Review thresholds and triggers for new customers to reflect the operator’s lack of knowledge of that individual’s play and spend patterns
- Conduct affordability assessments for individuals picked up by existing or new thresholds and triggers which indicate consumers experiencing harm – limiting or blocking further play until those checks have been concluded and supporting evidence obtained, and;
- Implement processes that ensure the continual monitoring of their customer base – identifying patterns of play, spend or behaviours have changed in recent weeks.
Online operators will be expected to make changes to act on this guidance as soon as possible. The Commission will bring forward plans to consult on whether further targeted player protection measures are required on a permanent basis.
Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said:
“Operators must use the data they hold to protect their customers and now, more than ever, it’s vital that online operators really know their customers by monitoring how long they are playing for and understanding how financial uncertainty is impacting them and what they can afford to gamble with. To ensure operators do that, we are strengthening our guidance and expect operators to take account of that to prevent bonus offers or inducements being offered to customers who are showing any sign of harm.”
Work was already underway to address many of these issues but this means we will now accelerate this work due to the unique situation that many consumers will find themselves in during lockdown.
“We will continue to monitor and publish the data that we are collecting and we will take further measures if required. We are monitoring online operators closely and if we see irresponsible behaviour we will step in immediately, suspending licences if we need to.”
Minister for Sports, Tourism and Heritage Nigel Huddleston said:
“It is vital that people are protected from the threat of gambling related harm and I welcome these latest steps from the Gambling Commission.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will not hesitate to take further action if required.”
Later this month the Commission will be opening a consultation which will propose strengthened measures around ethical product design, including reverse withdrawals and VIP Inducements.
Following the announcement of the lockdown and social distancing measures on 23 March, Mr McArthur also wrote to online operators to remind them of their responsibilities to protect consumers.
Nigel Huddleston MP wrote to gambling operators in April to remind them of their responsibilities during Covid-19, and urged them to give more prominence to safer gambling messages.
Read the Commission’s full report on Covid-19 related data. The data was taken from YouGov’s Covid-19 tracker, a weekly online survey of around 2,000 adults in Great Britain and from submissions of the biggest operators, covering approximately 80% of the online gambling market (noting that it may include some duplication of customer numbers where it is not possible to identify unique customers).