GC chief McArthur defends track record, hails industry progress
British Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur defended the Commission amid mounting criticism, arguing that it was the industry, not the regulator's, job to protect its reputation.
McArthur addressed criticism from both sides of the debate on gambling regulation in a speech to the CMS Gambling Conference, an event organised by the law firm CMS.
He argued against the idea that the commission was not working hard enough to fight gambling-related harm, a position put forward by the Gambling-Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group, which called the commission “not fit for purpose.”
“It is easy to accuse regulators of being ‘asleep on the job’ but it isn’t true,” McArthur said. “I lead a team who are passionately committed to making gambling safer.
“For example, I have colleagues on our contact centre dealing directly with consumers, some of whom are in crisis and need help. We meet frequently with people with lived experience and we try and bring them into our work and will try to do more of that, because it helps change mindsets.
“And I’d like to explain on a personal level why I am so determined to make a difference for consumers. I have gambled and I can see why people gamble, provided it doesn’t become a problem. At the same time, I spent my early career as a local authority child protection lawyer – I know the terrible effects that addiction and neglect can have on families.”
However, McArthur also took on the accusation that the Commission attempted to interfere too much in the lives of players.
““That’s not how I see it. Consumers have always been at the heart of our approach to regulation and they always will be,” he said. “We don’t suggest that we know better than they do, we bring them into our work and we want to do that more and more in the future.”
McArthur added that he was aware of the bad press the gambling industry had faced of late, but said it was down to operators to rebuild the industry's reputation.
“Are the bad news stories about gambling the Commission’s fault? McArthur asked. “Maybe – but the solution sits with operators, not me. In 2017, we introduced a much tougher compliance and enforcement regime.
“We did that because we needed to significantly change the behaviour of operators and those who run them. There were far too many failures, too many repeated instances of lessons not being learned and – frankly – standards were not good enough. I realise that each press release we put out adds to the weight of negative stories, but it’s not my job to create positive stories or suppress bad news stories.”
McArthur went on to say that the rate of problem gambling can and must be lowered, arguing that it was “simply unacceptable” that there are more than 300,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain.
“Some commentators have suggested that 340,000 problem gamblers is a glass floor that can’t be broken through,” McArthur said. “If you think that we cannot reduce the number of people experiencing gambling related harm, you need to find another job.
“There is a saying: if you believe you cannot do something, you’re right. So, if you believe nothing can be done, you have already failed. Your mindset is wrong and that self-limiting belief means that youare going to struggle to make progress. So if you cannot change your mindset you need to go and do something else and make way for other people.”
He added that he was glad to see efforts to lower this were based out of evidence and experience and pointed to the integration of AML and responsible gambling measures as one positive step that the industry has taken recently. However, he warned the regulator would continue to be tough on those that fail to expectations, even as behaviour was changing as a result of operators' efforts.
“The CEOs and boards I meet are clearly committed to making gambling safer. I welcome that. The industry trade bodies are making public commitments to make gambling safer. I welcome that – in particular, I welcome the change of tone from the British Gaming Council over what has gone before. Operators are collaborating for the benefit of consumers.”
In addition, McArthur touched on many of the initiatives announced by the Gambling Commission earlier this month. On 18 January, the Commission announced that it will work with GVC Holdings, Sky Betting and Gaming, Playtech and SG Gaming to form three industry working groups in an effort to make gambling safer.
SG Gaming, a division of Scientific Games, and Playtech have agreed to head up work on producing an industry code for product design, while Sky Betting and Gaming will oversee an advertising technology working group. Meanwhile, GVC will lead a third group addressing issues around VIP inducements to gamble.
Should the Industry Code for Game Design being developed by SG and Playtech be considered effective, it will be made part of the Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice. For the VIP working group, McArthur warned that if tangible progress is not made, the Commission would be forced to step in.
A wider project, in which operators collaborate to develop a single customer view across all brands and sites, aims to “significantly enhance player safety”.
“There is a risk that I am accused of being too cosy with the industry, or permitting the industry to regulate itself – it isn’t true but is easy to say,” McArthur said. “But it’s a risk I am happy to take as I think we have a massive opportunity to make significant improvements for consumers, which is why we have launched four initiatives which have the capacity to deliver real and rapid change for consumers in key areas of risk.”
McArthur also mentioned the commission's decision to ban the use of credit cards in gambling, which will come into effect in April, as well as stricter age verification rules, which came into effect in May 2019.