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GC braces for affordability pilot as consultations proposals timeline confirmed

| By Marese O'Hagan
The GB Gambling Commission has revealed the next steps for the first round of Gambling Act review white paper consultation proposals, including introducing a pilot for affordability checks.
affordability checks white paper

Today (1 May) the Commission stipulated a timeline for implementing the four initial proposals, which span:

  • Financial risk and vulnerability;
  • Online games design;
  • Improving consumer choice on direct marketing;
  • Strengthening age verification in land-based premises.

The changes are coming into effect in August 2024, November 2024, January 2025 and February 2025.

The first round of consultations opened in July last year and closed in October.

On the pilot for financial risk checks, also known as affordability checks – arguably the most controversial aspect of the white paper – the Commission clarified that customers would not be affected by the trial. The pilot ensures the Commission can “refine the data sharing processes before assessments are rolled out in a live environment”.

The pilot is projected to last for six months. After it ends, the Commission will decide whether to implement the checks permanently. But it stressed that this will not take place until the process of data-sharing is frictionless for a “vast majority” of customers who undergo checks.

In February, Tim Miller, executive director of the Commission, confirmed that a pilot scheme for affordability checks was imminent.

“Light touch” financial risk checks

The Commission’s announcement today confirms the introduction of what it calls “light-touch” financial vulnerability checks. This is alongside the financial risk assessment pilot.

The regulator said the introduction of affordability checks would “give people the opportunity to gamble safely”. It also says this protects people from “gambling-related harm”.

Implementing the light-touch financial risk checks will take place in two stages, the first taking place from 30 August 2024 and the second taking place from February 2025.

In the first stage, checks will apply to customers with a net deposit of £500 per month on gambling. During the second stage, checks will apply to customers with a net deposit of £150 per month.

Andrew Rhodes, CEO of the Gambling Commission, said that the affordability checks pilot would allow the Commission to consider the proposal’s influence on the industry.

“We are also pleased to be taking forward a pilot of financial risk assessments and data collection, which together will ensure that we can make informed decisions about how these assessments can be implemented in a way that supports both consumer freedom and protections,” Rhodes continued.

“We have to get the balance right between protecting people from the potentially life-ruining effects of gambling-related harm and respecting the freedom of adults to engage in an activity that the vast majority do so without experiencing harm.”

Piloting frictionless financial risk assessments

The Commission said that it will carry out a pilot for frictionless assessments following feedback from the consultations. In September last year, during a UK gambling policy debate, Rhodes noted that affordability checks were the most prevalent issue in the consultation responses thus far.

The pilot will put the checks in practice, collaborating with credit reference agencies and gambling companies to test the impact. It will also assess the impact on customers. Data collection from the pilot will also allow the Commission to pinpoint the financial thresholds at which the checks would take place.

The regulator noted that the pilot will not take place in a live environment. It also clarified that neither the light touch checks or the financial risk assessment pilot will affect player credit ratings.

Number of games features banned

Aside from the affordability checks, the Commission offered updates on the implementation of its remote games design proposals.

It has presented new rules aimed at reducing intensity and increasing player understanding. The new rules will also prohibit a number of games features. These are:

  • Features that give the player the illusion of control such as “turbo” and “slam stops”;
  • Autoplay;
  • Features that celebrate returns less than, or equal to, what was staked;
  • Operator-controlled features that allow customers to play several products simultaneously, including roulette and blackjack tables;
  • Spin speeds of less than five seconds, such as peer-to-peer poker.

In addition, operators will be mandated to display customer’s net spend in real time, as well as the time they have spent playing.

These changes will come into effect on 17 January 2025.

Age verification and opt-in for marketing

New rules on age verification at land-bases premises have also been outlined. All land-based licence holders – which will include smaller licensees – will have to carry out age verification test procedures.

The good practice code will also be amended. Licence holders will have to have procedures in place that require staff to check customer’s ages, if the customer appears to be under the age of 25, rather than under 21.

The changes to the LCCP will take place from 30 August 2024.

In terms of direct marketing, gambling companies will have to provide customers with the option to opt-in to whatever product type they wish to receive, along with the channels they would like to receive marketing through. This will come into force on 17 January 2025.

“As a gambling regulator it’s vital that the introduction of new rules is based on evidence and takes into account the views of consumers and other interested parties,” continued Rhodes. “We have listened to the views expressed in our engagement and in the consultation responses and we have made changes while still ensuring that we deliver meaningful protections.”

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