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GC urges licensees to be responsible during new Covid-19 lockdown

| By Robert Fletcher
The British Gambling Commission has again urged its licensees to continue to operate responsibly during the English national novel coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown, highlighting the potential for a rise in problem gambling behaviour among players due to the new restrictions.

England entered a four-week lockdown yesterday (5 November), due to last until 2 December, as the government seeks to slow the spread of Covid-19 and help protect vulnerable people during the winter.

Land-based operators including casinos, betting shops and bingo halls will therefore have to close their doors, something that is expected to continue a shift in customer activity online.

The regulator has called on gambling operators to “play their part” during the lockdown, by ensuring they protect customers from gambling-related harm.

This mirrors a similar message issued by the Commission during the first UK-wide lockdown earlier in the year, when operators were instructed to step up customer interactions, ramp up affordability checking, halt reverse withdrawals and restrict bonus offers.

Operators are also urged to ensure marketing is responsible, including that new players are on-boarded in a socially responsible way, while lockdown or Covid-19 should not be used to promote gambling. This will apply to all operators and their affiliates.

In addition, the regulator said operators should act in a way that minimises the risks to the licensing objectives, as well as treating users fairly.

“The gambling industry and daily life as a whole continues to be impacted by Covid-19 and during this time I want to ensure operators are both supported and aware of the expectations I have outlined above,” Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said.

“We continue to be in touch with government and our colleagues at DCMS and I will provide further updates when required.”

Meanwhile, British industry group the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has re-affirmed its 10-pledge Covid-19 action plan to protect staff and customers during lockdown.

Published in March at the start of the first UK lockdown, this will see BGC members required to abide by a number of measures.

These include increasing safer gambling messaging, stepping up interventions if customers increase time and spend beyond normal patterns, actively promoting deposit limits and carrying out welfare checks for staff.

Operators must also ensure they are advertising responsibly, report all rogue marketing from unlicensed sites, commit funds so the Research Education and Treatment (RET) and signpost help for self-exclusion and helplines.

The BGC also said its one-strike-and-you’re-out policy for affiliates that do not comply with the guidelines, while operators should support the government’s ‘National Effort’ with volunteers and facilities.

BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said: “Our members did not hesitate to sign up to our 10-pledge action plan in March and I am delighted that they have done so again as we, regrettably, go back into some form of lockdown, admittedly with far fewer restrictions this time.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and welfare of our staff and customers, and these pledges make very clear the standards expected of our members in the coming weeks.”

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