Open letter from the Gambling Commission on the Covid-19 lockdown

United Kingdom

An open letter from Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, was published on the Gambling Commission website on 5 November 2020. The letter concerns the impact of the latest COVID-19 lockdown measures on customer vulnerabilities and the Commission’s resulting expectations of online operators.

First, Neil McArthur reminds online operators of the Commission’s recent formal guidance on customer interaction obligations, which aims to further protect customers during the COVID-19 outbreak. He emphasises that restrictions and lockdowns, such as that in March 2020 and that now in place, mean that more time is spent at home, vulnerabilities may materialise, and customers may be impacted by uncertainties as to their employment or financial situations. Our note summarising the Commission’s customer interaction guidance is accessible here. In particular, that guidance requires a review of all thresholds and triggers used to track vulnerabilities, the implementation of additional thresholds to protect new customers and the continual monitoring of customer bases.

Neil McArthur’s latest statement goes on to emphasise a number of areas in which operators must be particularly vigilant in the current climate and sets out the Commission’s expectations in respect of them:

  1. Customer protection must be paramount
    • Operators must act responsibly around customer affordability checks and increased social responsibility interactions.

    • Operators must bear in mind that customers may be vulnerable, facing uncertainty and feeling anxiety, loneliness or boredom, which may lead to gambling related harm.

    • Operators should be ready to step in quickly if customers show signs of (being at risk of) gambling related harm.

  1. Marketing must be conducted responsibly
    • Operators must on-board new customers in a socially responsible way.

    • Operators must not exploit the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak for marketing purposes.

    • Operators should be very cautious about cross-selling online gaming products.

    • Operators should ensure that affiliates conduct themselves properly.

  1. Compliance with licence conditions and codes of practice
    • Operators must act in a way that minimises the risk to the licensing objectives.

    • Operators must treat customers fairly and communicate in a clear and transparent manner to allow informed decision-making as to whether or not to gamble.

    • Operators must work with the Commission in an open and cooperative way.

    • Operators must act in accordance with this letter and in line with the Commission’s regulatory framework.

The letter also confirms that the Commission will continue to conduct compliance assessments during 5 November to 2 December 2020 lockdown period and invites operators to share with the Commission any analysis of COVID-19 impacts on the gambling industry.

Neil McArthur’s statement does not add to the obligations already imposed on operators by the LCCP and the customer interaction guidance. However, it makes clear that the Commission remains focused on ensuring that operators recognise the potential increase in risk to customers during the COVID-19 outbreak and that policies and procedures reflect that. Whilst the ongoing pandemic presents difficulties for operators (particularly, casinos and bricks and mortar shops) and operators will be navigating their way through a multitude of challenges, online operators must continue to consider the appropriateness of their customer protections in light of the current environment as a matter of priority.