The GB Gambling Commission has revealed that despite issuing a record £19.6m (€21.9m/$24.9m) in penalty packages during 2018-19, it intends to step up its effort to clamp down on illegal and irresponsible operations as it seeks to better protect consumers.
Released today (June 27), the Commission’s Raising Standards for Consumers Enforcement Report focuses on the work carried out by the regulatory body during 2018-19 to ensure operators are running in line with regulations.
Aside from penalty packages – which were up from around £18m in the previous year – the Commission also stripped three executives of personal management licences, and issued warnings to four licence-holders and two notices of conduct.
The Commission carried out more than 160 regulatory and criminal investigations last year – an increase on previous years – and dealt with some 2,000 intelligence reports and carried out hundreds of risk-based compliance assessments.
Despite these efforts, chief executive Neil McArthur said that more must be done to ensure UK consumers can take part in gambling activities in a safe and legal manner.
“During 2018-19, we have seen progress in some areas, which we welcome and want to build on, but there have still been too many occasions where we have had to step in with tough action to protect consumers and the wider public,” McArthur said.
“For example, we have carried out a substantial number of investigations into online gambling operators,” he continued. “Several online casino operators and members of their senior management have been sanctioned at the conclusion of those investigations due to social responsibility and anti-money laundering failings.”
Moving forward, the Commission will continue to focus on a number of areas as part of its strategy, including safer gambling, anti-money laundering, marketing and advertising, illegal gambling, affordability and compliance.
In terms of safer gambling, the regulator said there are signs of progress and pockets of developing both good practice and collaboration. However, it added, it expects operators and industry stakeholders to step this work up going forward.
In April, the regulator moved to enhance such efforts by introducing its new National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, a three-year strategy designed to drive and coordinate work to bring a lasting impact on reducing gambling harms.
Meanwhile, the Commission also raised concerns about the “frequent disconnect” between operators’ money laundering and terrorist financing policies, saying that this has “become a tick-box exercise, without due consideration for their importance in the risk-based approach”.
With the threat of increasingly tough financial penalties for those that breach these regulations, the Commission is urging its licensees to ensure they are operating in line with the law.
The Commission also flagged up issues in terms of compliance with rules for marketing, saying that some operators continue to advertise in a non-compliant manner, which has in turn led enforcement action for misleading marketing practices.
Working with regulatory partners the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Commission has urged operators to have regard to the new ASA/CAP guidance to ensure marketing campaigns are socially responsible.
In terms of illegal gambling, the Commission is committed to an incremental approach, whereby if it suspects individuals or companies of illegal activity, it will issue cease and desist demands. If these are not complied with, it will then escalate matters to the point where a formal criminal investigation is opened, granting the regulatory more investigatory powers.
During 2018-19, the Commission dealt with 31 instances of remote unlicensed operators, which, although down on previous years, remain an area of concern, particularly in terms of activities through social media and unlicensed lotteries promoted online.
For affordability, the Commission has also recommended that licensees revisit their framework on triggers for problem gambling, in terms of their customers’ disposable income levels as a starting point for deciding benchmark triggers. The regulator said this would help ensure vulnerable players are identified early and interacted with appropriately.
In terms of compliance, the UK regulator carried out almost 1,200 compliance assessments in 2018-19 and also staged eight workshops to remind operators of their regulatory requirements.
The Commission notes that not all of its compliance work is about identifying failings, with an emphasis on identifying good practice sharing this across the industry to support operators in raising their standards.
“I want gambling consumers in Britain to be able to enjoy the fairest and safest gambling in the world and I want gambling operators to work with us to put customer enjoyment and safety at the top of their corporate agenda,” McArthur added.
“I am in no doubt that there is much more to do to make gambling in Great Britain fairer and safer and we all have a part to play in achieving that. Our enforcement work is a key part of our work at the Commission.”
Gambling charity GambleAware has said that it will support the Commission in its efforts, with chief executive Marc Etches saying it is vital that other organisations also contribute to make sure operators continue to focus on making gambling products safer.
Etches added: “Having a highly regulated and fair environment for gambling is essential and customer safety should always be of the utmost importance to gambling companies.
“Customers should be able to gamble in a safe and protected environment, where help and advice is promoted regularly.”