We have recently seen the conclusion of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Gambling Commission's programme of work relating to consumer protection law breaches in the remote gambling sector and the launch of a new National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. Statements made by the Commission and the CMA in the context of these two developments make clear the importance that both regulators continue to place on consumer protection law compliance as a central pillar in the regulation of gambling firms.
Remote gambling operators must ensure consumer law compliance is at the heart of their business model
On 29 April 2019, the CMA and the Commission published a joint letter to mark the closure of their joint programme of work in the remote gambling sector. The letter emphasises to gambling firms that putting consumer law at the heart of their business model is essential to rebuild and maintain consumer trust.
As part of the work the CMA undertook with the Commission, six gambling firms provided undertakings in which they committed not to continue or repeat certain practices which the CMA considered were unfair. The letter notes that all gambling firms should, by now, have amended their terms and practices to meet the requirements set out in the undertakings. It goes on to say, however, that for firms to comply fully with their consumer and licensing responsibilities, they must go further than simply complying with the published undertakings: "You need to audit all your terms and conditions, examine your business systems and practices, embed compliance and, importantly, continually review these to ensure that you maintain high standards of consumer protection in the future."
The CMA and the Commission go on to say that, to be compliant also requires critical scrutiny of the practices of those with whom gambling firms deal, including affiliates and third-party suppliers of systems, software and call centres, as gambling firms are responsible for their actions in accordance with the Commission's Licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP).
The joint letter notes that the updated LCCP provisions (which came into force on 31 October 2018) enable the Commission to take swift and firm action if an operator does not comply with consumer law and ensure its consumers are treated fairly at all stages of the customer journey: see our October 2018 update.
Although the CMA does not intend to take any further action in connection with its investigation, the CMA will continue to work with and support the Commission as it progresses its compliance work. The Commission will also continue to look at how firms treat customers when assessing suitability to hold a gambling licence.
National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms: renewed focus on consumer safety and prevention of harm
On 25 April 2019, the Commission launched the new three-year National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms. The Commission's intention, set out in its press release announcing the launch of the strategy, is that health bodies, charities, regulators and businesses will come together in partnership to tackle the issue, with the Commission calling for action and combined efforts to deliver two strategic priority areas: prevention and education, and treatment and support.
As part of the new strategy, the Commission intends to continue to take a firm regulatory enforcement approach whilst also further improving gambling harms research and evaluation. The Commission said that it would also explore the establishment of a new National Research Centre and that work was being undertaken to build a National Data Repository for research purposes.
To support the new strategy, the Commission has launched a new website (www.reducinggamblingharms.org), giving information on the strategy’s priorities. Ahead of the new strategy launch, the Commission also announced, on 1 April 2019, that its independent advisors, the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB), had been renamed as the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG) as part of a renewed focus on the safety of consumers and prevention of harm.
Gambling Commission's Business Plan: consumer fairness and safety as overriding objectives
On 16 April 2019, the Commission published its 2019-2020 Business Plan. The plan confirms that the Commission's five strategic priorities continue to be: protecting the interests of consumers; preventing gambling harm to consumers and the public; raising standards in the gambling market; optimising returns to good causes from lotteries; and improving the way the Commission regulates. Reinforcing the themes of the two developments discussed above, Neil McArthur, the Commission's Chief Executive, stated, "Our overriding objective is to make gambling fairer and safer for consumers, in what is a constantly developing market."
If you have any questions regarding these developments, please contact a member of the Betting & Gaming team.