The protection of consumer interests remains a key concern of the Gambling Commission. Notwithstanding the difficulties posed by the current COVID-19 outbreak, Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Commission, has recently reaffirmed that "actions speak louder than words and any operator that does not put consumer safety first will find itself a target for enforcement action.”
The Commission announced in January 2020 that three industry working groups, made up of over 30 operators and co-ordinated by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), would be established to target improved practices in relation to: the use of VIP incentives, game and product design and safer advertising. The importance for these working groups to produce tangible deliverables was emphasised by McArthur, who commented “We’ve set a demanding timetable for progress because we cannot proceed at the speed of the slowest. If rapid progress is not made then we will have to look at other options as making gambling safer for consumers is paramount.”
The result is that, within a relatively short space of time, the first wave of outputs from the working groups has been published by the Commission on 1 April 2020. The Commission will now launch formal consultations to ensure that the new measures (agreed to by the industry through its representatives on each of the working groups) are incorporated into the regulatory framework. The Commission expects some changes to be implemented immediately, with others expected to come into effect within the coming months (with the Commission monitoring and supporting implementation in the interim period).
The initial outputs of each working group are as follows:
This group set out to strengthen existing provisions relating to VIPs and the industry has so far agreed to:
- a prohibition on the recruitment of under 25s to VIP schemes,
- the introduction of tighter controls for VIP customers, including checks relating to spend, safer gambling and enhanced due diligence before customers become eligible for VIP scheme, and
- introduce fully auditable reward programmes involving the recording of all decision making with specified senior oversight and accountability.
The Commission will now consult on permanent changes to the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) and expects the industry to implement the new measures "within three months". The consultation should provide further clarity regarding what additional checks will need to be undertaken and which individuals it expects to provide the requisite "senior oversight" and to hold accountable for any future failings.
Operators should review their VIP schemes and the associated policies, procedures and controls as soon as possible to ensure that they are consistent with the working group findings. We recommend that the outcome of any such review is documented, together with details of any adjustments that are made, pending publication of the consultation documents.
Game and product design
This group was challenged to produce an Industry Code for Game and Product Design, which the Commission would eventually incorporate into the LCCP and Remote Gambling and Software Technical Standards.
The industry has so far committed to:
- a minimum spin speed of 2.5 seconds on all slots,
- the removal of game features which may encourage intensive play such as slam stops,
- a prohibition on split screen slots,
- producing a more detailed work plan relating to in-game messaging,
- the creation of a BGC Testing Lab to further analyse harmful game features, and
- publication of the final Industry Code for Game and Product Design in September 2020.
The Commission will now consult on the priority areas for immediate action, including those relating to the games and game features that are to be prohibited. Operators, games developers and other software suppliers should make the necessary technical adjustments to their games as soon as possible and conduct a review of their game design policies and procedures to ensure that they are consistent with the initial outputs from this working group. The outcomes of any such review should be documented, together with details of any changes to be made. In conducting any such review, the licensee should also seek to identify any other risks associated with each of its products and evaluate how those risks can be mitigated.
The Commission has indicated that this working group must go "further and faster". In particular, the Commission expects data regarding the demographic and behaviour of users to be used to identify and mitigate risks. Operators, games developers and other software suppliers should consider how they might use such data to address any risks posed by particular games or game features, and should continue to follow the developments of this working group very carefully.
Safer advertising online
This group has explored how technology can be utilised more effectively to minimise the risk of exposure of gambling advertising to children, young people and vulnerable adults, and there will now be a requirement on the industry to:
- produce and develop a common list of negative search terms (e.g. how do I self-exclude from gambling?) and suppression websites,
- improve the use of customer data to ensure paid-for-ads are targeting away from vulnerable groups on social media platforms,
- implement an approach ensuring that advertising is only targeted at those aged 25+ in social media and Pay Per Click advertising where platform facilities permit,
- use age-gating on YouTube channels and content, and
- adopt an Affiliate Code of Conduct which will be implemented equally by all affiliates and updated regularly.
The Commission expects these measures to be adopted across the industry as soon as possible and for the industry to work with social media platforms to identify and implement further solutions. The changes will also be incorporated into the IGRG’s Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising and will take effect from July 2020 (compliance with this code is already an Ordinary Code provision under the LCCP). Operators should also review their arrangements with affiliates, marketing agencies and AdTech providers to ensure that they are consistent with, and allow for the implementation of, the outcomes already identified.
The working group will also establish a cross-industry AdTech Forum to enhance industry collaboration in the development of AdTech solutions, in addition to working with the Commission, online platforms and broadcasters to promote consumer protection and adopt a consistent approach to blocking gambling advertising.
The Commission has been encouraged by the progress made by the working groups but it is demanding more from the industry. We will be monitoring these and future developments closely; if you would like to discuss any of the areas we have highlighted, please contact one of the team or your usual Mishcon contact.