Gambling Commission tightens up consumer protection during COVID-19 lockdown

United Kingdom

Correct as of 12:00 on 13 May 2020. This article is not being maintained.

On 12 May 2020, the Gambling Commission released additional guidance for remote operators to adhere to during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance enhances the responsibilities of operators in respect of customer interaction.

These increased measures follow previous COVID-19 guidance issued by the Commission in March, and a warning to operators to act responsibly during the lockdown.

Use of online gambling products during lockdown

The new guidance was prompted by the release of data from the Commission which shows an increase in the use of certain online gambling products. Specifically, the data showed that there had been an increase in the number of gambling sessions that are played for over an hour, and that two thirds of gamblers who had gambled on three or more products in the last four weeks had increased the time or money they were spending on online gambling.

Nevertheless, the Commission made clear that there was no evidence to suggest an increase in problem gambling and that there had only been a small number of people who had gambled for the first time during the lockdown.

New guidance

The guidance builds on operators’ responsibilities under social responsibility code provision 3.4.1 of the licence conditions and codes of practice, which states that licensees must interact with customers in a way which minimises the risk of customers experiencing gambling-related harms.

Due to the lockdown, the guidance states that licensees should also now ensure that they have implemented additional measures into their customer interaction framework. In particular, operators must:

  • review all thresholds and triggers used to track vulnerability to ensure that they reflect changed financial circumstances that many consumers will be experiencing;
  • specifically review time indicators to capture play in excess of one hour;
  • set additional or modify existing thresholds and triggers which are specific to new customers reflecting a lack of knowledge of that individual’s play and spend patterns;
  • implement processes that ensure the continual monitoring of the customer base, identifying customers whose patterns of play, spend or behaviours have changed in the last few weeks;
  • conduct affordability assessments for individuals picked up by existing or new thresholds and triggers which indicate consumers experiencing harm;
  • for those customers, consider limiting or blocking further play until the checks have been concluded and supporting evidence obtained;
  • prevent reverse withdrawal options for customers until further notice; and
  • stop bonus offers or promotions to customers displaying indicators of harm.

Online operators will be expected to make these changes as soon as possible. The Commission also signalled that it will bring forward its plans to consult on whether additional player protection measures are necessary on a permanent basis.

Finally, the Commission said it will continue to publish the data it is collecting and will take further measures in this area if required.