This page was last updated on 9 April 2020.
This guidance is intended primarily for businesses that hold licences issued by the Gambling Commission of Great Britain (the Commission).
On 19 March 2020 the Commission issued guidance in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. The message from the Commission is clear: notwithstanding these unprecedented circumstances and the associated challenges, the Commission expects all licensees to ensure that the licensing objectives continue to be upheld and that consumers are protected.
Licensees must ensure that compliance remains at the heart of their business and ensure that commercial considerations do not compromise adherence with the terms of any licence. This guidance outlines some of the key compliance issues arising in light of COVID-19. If you want to discuss any of these issues with us, please do not hesitate to contact our team.
We have published practical guidance for clients in all sectors regarding COVID-19, which is updated regularly. Businesses in the betting and gaming sector are also likely to find the generic guidance useful, including the guidance on insurance, force majeure clauses and the English law doctrine of frustration.
Where businesses are able to remain open, the Commission expects all licensees to ensure that they have sufficient management, staffing and oversight in place to maintain compliance with the LCCP.
With most staff in the remote sector now working from home where possible, and social-distancing measures in place, staff sickness risks are being mitigated but licensees should ensure that an appropriate level (and qualification) of cover is available to cover all business critical roles in the event of absences, and that the relevant staff members have access to the necessary data from their remote working location. Business critical roles include PML holders, nominated officers and their deputies, fraud, risk and payments teams, RG teams and any staff occupying compliance or customer facing roles.
Licensees must ensure that the individuals who occupy each of the specified management offices (as outlined in the LCCP) hold a personal management licence at all times and that at least one person occupies at least one of each of the offices. The person responsible for the licensee’s gambling regulatory compliance function as head of that function must not, except with the Commission’s express approval, occupy any other specified management office.
Licensees should consider using online training to upskill/boost the skills of staff engaged in compliance related and customer facing roles and any deputies appointed in response to current events. Records of all such training must be kept in the ordinary way.
Maintaining sufficient resource and focus on key compliance functions will be challenging with remote working and, especially, with the added personal and family concerns and responsibilities with which staff are having to cope. Licensees must remain vigilant and try to anticipate issues and address them proactively. Licensees are advised to keep records of any key decisions and/or operational or other changes made to their compliance policies, procedures and controls so that it may demonstrate how risks were mitigated during this time.
As businesses make organisational and operational changes in response to current circumstances, licensees must consider whether any key event or other notification needs to be made to the Commission. The Commission expects its licensees to disclose anything which the Commission would reasonably need to be aware of in exercising its regulatory functions. This includes anything that is likely to have a material impact on the licensee’s business or on the licensee’s ability to conduct licensed activities compliantly.
Amongst other things, licensees should notify the Commission as soon as reasonably practicable of any material change in the licensee's structure or operation of the business and any material change in managerial responsibilities or governance arrangements. If you have any questions about whether or not a matter is disclosable as a key event (or otherwise) please let us know.
In light of the numerous sporting events that have been, and continue to be, cancelled, licensees may want to start offering new products. Adding new products may necessitate an application to vary. There is much talk of virtual events playing a greater role in the absence of live events. However, betting on virtual events is not covered by a general betting (standard) (real events) or casino licence and the necessary licence category will need to be added if it is not already covered by the licence.
If you need guidance on what documents will need to be submitted in support of an application to vary and other operational considerations, please contact us.
The Commission has indicated that because it has had to introduce remote working, it will not be able to fast track applications, and application processing times may be slower than usual.
Operators must exercise caution in view of the likelihood that players may be self-isolating and concerned about ongoing events. The circumstances may present an increased risk of problem gambling and mental health concerns caused by isolation.
We recommend that operators monitor player activity particularly carefully during this time and be vigilant around extended play sessions and unusual peaks in activity or other potentially problematic behaviours. Operators should review their RG triggers and consider whether any adjustments should be made (for example around session times and spend). The Commission expects licensees to increase RG interactions where customers are showing signs of gambling related harm during this time, and in view of this, it would obviously be desirable to be able to demonstrate increased interactions, should the question ever be asked.
Operators must also be sensitive to the question of affordability (especially given the economic impact of COVID-19). Operators should consider the impact that COVID-19 may have on players, particularly where players have provided details of their occupation in a sector which is likely to have been adversely affected by social-distancing measures and business closures. Operators must also be aware of the financial impact of COVID-19 on VIPs and high value customers.
Clients have reported an increase in the number of withdrawal requests from players. Operators are reminded that they must allow consumers to withdraw their deposit balance at any time and without restrictions except as necessary to comply with any regulatory obligations. A request made by a customer to withdraw funds from their account must not result in a requirement for additional information to be supplied as a condition of withdrawal if the licensee could have reasonably requested that information earlier.
Anti-money laundering and Data Security
Cyber criminals are taking advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak. The rush to facilitate remote working can expose system vulnerabilities which may be exploited by hackers, and as a firm we are seeing a spike in cyber and data security cases across a host of sectors. Extra vigilance around data security is critically important at this challenging time.
Furthermore, there is a heightened risk of businesses being exploited for money laundering, terrorist financing and fraud, and licensees must ensure that their AML and payment, fraud and risk teams are briefed accordingly, sufficiently resourced and are on heightened alert.
Licensees must assess any increased risk of their business being used for money laundering and terrorist financing in light of the current situation and consider whether their business risk assessment should be reviewed and updated in light of the change in circumstances. If changes are made to the business risk assessment, licensees must consider whether any related policies, procedures and controls must also be reviewed and revised to ensure that they remain effective.
Marketing and affiliates
The Commission expects operators to continue to onboard new customers in a socially responsible way and not to exploit the situation for marketing purposes. A number of operators have already indicated that a zero tolerance policy will be adopted if affiliates seek to use the COVID-19 outbreak to their advantage. Affiliates who disregard the Commission's guidance, and any guidance from operators, risk having their affiliate agreement suspended or even terminated.
Operators and affiliates must resist the urge to ramp up marketing without carefully considering their obligations under the LCCP and CAP and BCAP codes. All marketing of gambling products and services must be undertaken in a socially responsible manner. Licensees must take care to ensure that commercial considerations in challenging economic times are not allowed to trump compliance.
The Advertising Standards Agency ("ASA") has published a warning to online gambling operators and advertising agencies to pay particular attention to their obligations under the UK's Advertising Codes, given the likely impact of the current crisis on consumers' expectations and behaviour. In the face of potentially heightened risks caused by a 'captive' audience tied to their homes, and with many people anxious about their financial position, it warns it will take firm and swift action against irresponsible advertising by operators seeking to use the current lockdown situation to their advantage. It will liaise with the Gambling Commission to identify issues and enforce compliance. Compliance with the CAP and BCAP Codes is a requirement under the LCCP and the Commission has indicated that it will step in immediately if it sees any irresponsible behaviour.
Personal Management Licence holders responsible for a licensee's marketing function must familiarise themselves with this new guidance, brief their marketing teams (and external agencies) accordingly and make any necessary updates to their marketing policies and procedures.
The ASA also refers to its recently launched short-form reporting process for people to report concerns about COVID-19 related claims in adverts, enabling such complaints to be prioritised and dealt with swiftly. Whilst the process relates to adverts generally, the ASA particularly encourages its use to report gambling adverts which:
- refer to the COVID-19 crisis or related matters, such as the Government’s lockdown policy and/or
- include related claims or themes such as relieving boredom, repeated play or personal problems like family difficulties
The ASA recognises that such ads would have raised compliance concerns at any time. However, the current crisis has exacerbated the risk of harm.
The Advertising Codes seek to protect those who are innately vulnerable (under-18s) and ‘situationally’ vulnerable. In particular, adverts relating to gambling products must not:
- be irresponsible in their use of content or themes that might exploit vulnerabilities;
- target through their content or placement under-18s;
- suggest that gambling can provide an escape from personal, professional or educational problems such as loneliness or depression; or
- suggest that gambling can be a solution to financial concerns, an alternative to employment or a way to achieve financial security.
Operators are reminded of the ASA's guidance on protecting children from irresponsible gambling adverts and its guidance on the responsible targeting of ads which cover all media (including social networks and other online platforms When considering particular ads, the ASA says it will focus on the context presented by the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on people viewing such ads. It highlights as being of concern adverts that:
- trivialize gambling (e.g. encourage repetitive or frequent participation)
- refer (including indirectly) to indicators of problem gambling behaviour such as solitary play, playing late at night, pre-occupation with gambling or isolating behaviour
- refer to personal problems (e.g. that gambling can provide an escape)
- seek to exploit financial concerns
The ASA will also continue to use its monitoring technology (recently used to assess the extent to which irresponsible gambling adverts were targeted at children) to monitor ongoing compliance in the gambling sector.
Practical guidance for COVID-19
Read the latest COVID-19 related updates on our hub.