On 15 October 2018, the Gambling Commission (“Commission”) announced its findings that the independent bookmaker, Mark Jarvis Limited (“Mark Jarvis”), breached the Commission’s Social Responsibility Code (“SRC”) after failing to protect a customer who was showing signs of gambling problems. Over a 19-month period, the customer spent £34,000, £11,250 of which was stolen from her employer, on B2 gambling machines in one betting shop. Mark Jarvis has agreed to make a £60,000 payment in lieu of a financial penalty and divest itself of the £34,000 received from the customer.

The Commission’s findings

The Commission found that Mark Jarvis breached provision 3.4.1(1) of the SRC, which forms part of the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice and with which all gambling licence holders must comply.

Provision 3.4.1 (1) of the SRC requires licensees to have customer interaction policies and procedures in place in order to identify and prevent problem gambling in customers. Specifically, Mark Jarvis’ policies failed to:

  1. identify the appropriate level of management who may initiate customer interaction or how concerns may be escalated (SRC 3.4.1(1)(a));
  2. require that records of customer behaviour must be retained (SRC 3.4.1(1)(b));
  3. include requirements to: (a) make use of all relevant sources of information in order to ensure effective decision making and (b) guide and deliver effective customer interactions (SRC 3.4.1(1)(e)). In this circumstance, staff at the premises were aware that the customer’s husband had recently passed away, which could result in compromised decision making due to heightened vulnerability; and
  4. include procedures to identify customers at risk who may not be displaying obvious or overt signs associated with problem gambling, such as the time or money spent by a customer (SRC 3.4.1(1)(e)(i)). Staff were aware, in this case, that the customer would spend significant lengths of time in the betting shop and the amounts that she would bet were of such a level that warranted further investigation, however, the staff failed to raise concern or make any inquiry into this behaviour.

Mark Jarvis has agreed to make a payment in lieu of a financial penalty of £60,000, which the Commission will use to accelerate delivery of the National Responsible Gambling Strategy. In addition, Mark Jarvis has divested itself of £11,250 in stolen funds it received as well as the additional £22,660 paid by the customer by debit card. The bookmaker will also pay a further £4,000 toward the Commission’s investigative costs.

The Commission’s full report can be found here.

Conclusions

The Commission considers that this investigation provides a valuable learning opportunity for gambling operators. Indeed, it demonstrates the importance of not only having adequate policies and procedures in place to identify problem gamblers, but the need to have sufficient resources and clear procedures to act decisively once a concern has been raised. With the Commission recently imposing similar fines on Paddy Power Betfair and The Rank Group it is clear operators face costly penalties if they do not adopt a proactive approach to customer interaction and other social responsibility issues.

But while many of the recent cases before the Commission in relation to the SRC have involved online activity, this case is a useful reminder that the SRC applies equally to betting shops, where different issues and compliance challenges can arise.

Prudent operators of betting shops will want to ensure that these issues and challenges are carefully considered and that in particular staff are well trained to spot problem gamblers, know how to report their concerns and the internal process they need to follow.