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GC chief: Industry must recognise reality of problem gambling stats

| By Daniel O'Boyle
Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur warned operators not to lose sight of the fact that every business will cater to a number of problem gamblers, in a speech to the British gambling industry earlier today (18 November).

In an event ahead of Safer Gambling Week, McArthur cited data that showed that 0.5% of the population, 1% of gamblers and 6% of “engaged gamblers” are defined as problem gamblers.

McArthur told operators present that it was important to think about those numbers in terms of the operator’s own customers, and understand it likely means that each operator caters to a number of problem gamblers.

“You may be thinking to yourself, ‘those numbers do not apply to my business.’ But are you sure and how do you know?” he asked. “How likely is it that people experiencing or at risk of gambling related harm are only playing with your competitors?”

“You might say ‘We have a risk committee that takes this really seriously’. And I know that’s the case and tone from the top is important. But how confident are you really that your company is doing everything it possibly can to drive down the number of customers you have who are experiencing or at risk of gambling related harm?”

The Commission chief also discussed progress on implementation of a “single customer view”, where customers’ activity with all gambling operators may be seen. He said the commission recently held an event with operators and technology suppliers that gave the commission confidence the measure can be introduced.

“While it has not yet reached a conclusion, we have made progress on the single customer view project and we are determined to push that work through to a conclusion because it would be an absolute game changer in terms of customer protection,” McArthur said.

“We need to find a solution, because if we crack the ability to safely and securely share data between operators for the purposes of affordability checks and customer safety that could be a real game changer.”

McArthur also pointed to recent work from the Gambling Commission on VIP schemes, advertising and online game design. In each policy area, the Commission collaborated with an industry “working group” featuring operators, suppliers or affiliates. While this decision was criticised by some anti-industry groups at the time, McArthur said he believes the Commission has proven doubters wrong on the matter.

“Many people were sceptical,” he said. “Some others were openly critical of the Commission for embarking on this experiment. I was even accused of letting operators regulate themselves, which was never the case.

“But whichever way you look at it, it was a novel and slightly risky thing for a regulator to do and I was asked a lot of questions about it. When asked, I said that I was prepared to work with anyone who shared the Commission’s desire to make gambling safer, which is what we have been doing and what we will continue to do.

“So was it worth the risk?  I think the short answer is yes. Despite the criticism and the scepticism, working together has allowed us to make that quicker progress”

The groups produced a series of new rules, including a ban on under-25s joining VIP schemes, a minimum 2.5-second slot spin speed and restricting social media and “pay-per-click” (PPC) advertising should to those aged 25 or over when possible.

However, he added, he would have liked to have seen more results from the game design working group.

“I have to be honest and say that whilst progress was made in the industry groups – candidly – it didn’t go as far as we would have liked, which was a shame.”

Finally, McArthur noted that the Government is soon to announce its review of the Gambling Act. He said that while the Commission would assist in this review in any way it could, it would continue to work on its own efforts to make gambling safer.

“I want to make it crystal clear that we will not be taking our foot off the accelerator whilst the review takes place,” McArthur said. “We are making progress in lots of areas and we must continue to work together to make gambling safer. 

“Where we see an opportunity to raise standards for customers, we intend to take it, adopting – as we always have – a precautionary approach where appropriate. And we will not accept the Review of the Act as a reason for any operators to slow down either. None of you should get distracted from the task in hand.” 

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