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APBGG: Gambling Commission in “urgent need” of change

| By Marese O'Hagan
The Parliamentary All-Party Betting and Gaming Group (APBGG) has called for a total overhaul of the GB Gambling Commission, following an inquiry into the regulator’s practices.
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In a report released today (24 January), following an inquiry that began in September last year, the APBGG branded the Commission as “incompetent”.

The investigation was launched, the group explained, after it became aware of complaints regarding the Commission’s performance.

The APBGG then set up an anonymous platform for operators to submit complaints, reporting that they had received a “significant number” of submissions.

It claimed that the evidence submitted was “condemning”, and evidence that the Commission is in “urgent need” of modification to ensure consumers continue gambling via regulated outlets, and do not turn to black market offerings.

In particular, the APBGG highlighted elements that suggested the regulator was overreaching. It noted that novel coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions were imposed on the industry after lockdowns were lifted and claimed the Commission acted “excessively, disproportionately and inconsistently” during assessments.

The regulator was also guilty of alleged breaches of GDPR and went against their own Statement of Principles, as well as an ignorance of its statutory duty to “permit gambling” the group said.

Examples of the Commission’s alleged incompetence also includes long time frames for licence applications and administrative errors resulting in application rejection.

A complaint was also submitted alleging the Commission had once acted so outrageously that a Judicial Review was considered.

“As co-chair of the APBGG, I am truly shocked to reveal so much evidence of the bad practice by the Gambling Commission over the years,” said Scott Benton MP, APBGG co-chair.

“[To] do nothing, to ignore the contents of our report, is to sentence the British gambling industry to certain demise and thousands of people into the trauma of being pushed into the black market.”

Many of the operators that submitted the complaints added that they had no one else to complain to besides the Commission.

The report also details instances where the Commission had allegedly not adhered to governmental reviews and reports. In relation to the 2008 Hampton Implementation Review of the Gambling Commission, which focused on regulatory implementation, the APBGG claimed that the Commission could still improve its assessments of regulatory activity and the quality of data requests.

The APBGG urged that the Commission CEO, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and all stakeholders must take action to improve how the Commission operates.

Key to this, it said, would be to determine whether the regulator’s core duty was to reduce the number of problem gamblers. If this was the case, a strategy of how that was to be achieved, the targets to be met, and the scientific evidence behind its approaches had to be outlined.

“There will also need to be an impact assessment of how such measures will affect the financial position of the regulated gambling industry and whether there will be any growth of the unregulated sector,” the report recommended. “Each intervention will need analysis of its implementation and results.”

This should be analysed in parliament, which should have the ultimate responsibility for weighing up the “the benefits of decreased problem gambling numbers versus economic dereliction and an increased illegal gambling, not an un-elected regulator”, the report argued.

The group also calls for an assessment of the Commission by the Better Regulation Executive, and an independent assessment of its enforcement policies by a Queen’s Counsel. DCMS, it added, should take over the complaints process from the regulator, claiming the industry was “too scared” to raise grievances.

In terms of changes to the 2005 Gambling Act, the APBGG called for differentiation between high and low-risk operators, with products effectively subject to restrictions based on the potential harms they may cause. This is arguably similar to the reform-focused Gambling Related Harm APPG recommendations.

“The Commission has often, according to the evidence we’ve seen, had a far more severe risk assessment and extreme interpretation of the regulations than the operator, far in excess of the actual risk of harm,” the group explained. “If low risk operators could be designated as such and have regulations proportionately written for them this would dissuade the regulator of its desire to penalise.”

Finally, it recommends the Commission be placed in special measures, to change its culture and strategic direction.

“We believe that now is the perfect opportunity for the Commission, with a new chair and soon to have CEO, to change things for the better and become a proper regulator again,” the APBGG said in conclusion.

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