On 14 February 2019 the Gambling Commission ("Commission") announced a consultation on proposed changes to make gambling in the UK fairer and safer.

The Commission is seeking views from the industry on two planned amendments to the licence conditions and codes of practice ("LCCP"), as well as evidence on the use of gambling blocking software.

Customer Interaction

As a result of its enforcement work, the Commission found that many parts of the industry were not doing enough to identify and assist customers who may be at risk of or experiencing harms associated with gambling.

The consultation follows guidance published by the Commission in February 2018, which expanded on the rules around customer interaction for remote gambling operators.

In particular, it provided:

  • more clarity on what should trigger or prompt an interaction;
  • a greater emphasis on the importance of interacting appropriately and in good time; and
  • the need to evaluate the impact of the interaction on the customer's activity, and continually review and assess the effectiveness of the approach.

Feedback on this guidance from stakeholders was positive, and equivalent guidance for non-remote gambling was sought. The Commission reviewed non-remote gambling on the same basis and the findings were consistent.

The Commission is therefore proposing to amend the LCCP to reflect this updated guidance and strengthen the rules around customer interaction.

The proposed new social responsibility code provision will mirror the “identify – interact – evaluate” model that the Commission has been espousing and requires that “licensees must interact with customers in a way which minimises the risk of customers experiencing harm associated with gambling”. This must include:

  1. identifying customers who may be at risk of or experiencing harms associated with gambling;
  2. interacting with customers who may be at risk of or experiencing harms associated with gambling; and
  3. understanding the impact of the interaction on the customer, and the effectiveness of the operator's approach.

The new wording would also require licensees to take into account the Commission’s guidance on customer interaction.

Alternative dispute resolution ("ADR")

Currently, operators must appoint a pre-approved ADR provider so that where customer complaints can't be resolved between the parties, they can be escalated to an independent forum.

The Commission found that this process needed to be made more accessible and effective for consumers. Even though ADR providers must adhere to a set of rules, these rules are not specific to gambling and this meant that decision making standards varied.

A supplemental framework was set out by the Commission and existing ADR providers were reviewed against it. Where ADR providers met the enhanced requirements, they were placed on another list which showed they adhered to higher standards.

The consultation asks for views on whether the Commission should require operators to only appoint ADR providers who meet the additional standards, as well as the standard requirements.

Gambling website blocking software

Currently operators should signpost customers to the availability of blocking software that helps prevent access to gambling websites.

An evaluation of the software showed that whilst it can be effective, the fact that individuals have to pay (often per device) to use it creates a potential barrier.

The Commission is seeking views on:

  • whether operators should be required to provide access to blocking software free of charge to customers; and
  • how this could most effectively be delivered.

The consultation can be accessed here and closes on 9 May 2019.

The Commission has also stated that it will soon be calling for evidence around gambling with credit cards, on the basis that consumers should not gamble with money they do not have.

Key takeaways

Operators are encouraged to respond to the consultation to ensure that any changes to the LCCP in respect of the new approach to regulating customer interaction and ADR providers will have the effect of making gambling safer and fairer.

Further, licensees should consider the call for evidence around blocking software to ensure that the proposals are practical and capable of being implemented if necessary.