Following on from our snapshot report after the grilling of The Gambling Commission’s CEO received from The public Accounts Committee, a meticulous dissection of the session has been commissioned from highly esteemed academics, Simon Thompson and Alexander Kalman for The Clean Up Gambling Campaign Group.  Clearly the appearance of McArthur and a DCMS representative raised more questions than answers but it was without doubt, as this report exposes, a steppingstone towards pressing for accountability and transparency from a regulator that is coming under increasing pressure.  For the huge number of disordered gamblers that have been exploited by malpractice for profit and greed, they are no longer quietly going away and they and we know that the buck stops with the gambling Commission.  

Here are some highlights from the report which we have lifted: 

In questioning the dismissiveness of the DCMS on the numbers of ‘problem gamblers’, the committee replied; 

‘The ‘small numbers’ referred to by the Permanent Secretary are 340,000 adult problem gamblers, 55 000 children, and an at-risk group of almost 2 million adults and children. As remarked by Richard Holden MP ‘If this was anything else it would be considered an absolute scandal’. 

James Wild MP and Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP then succinctly summarise the state of play, on behalf of disordered gamblers that have been left out to suffer even more due to the regulators contempt for them;  

This is a regulatory regime in which ‘the deck is completely stacked against individual in favour of betting companies and gambling companies who are not held to account…’ (James Wild MP) 

Repeatedly, it appears gambling is a ‘special case’, that lags behind in the most basic of consumer protections, government and regulatory standards: 

‘In an age where we are expecting more and more openness and expecting government to be responsive to people’s complaints…it’s unacceptable for our constituents…for their complaints not to be properly investigated, and for them not to be told what the outcome of that investigation is’ (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP) 

Rather than accepting the realities of the situation and showing some semblance of remorse or offering solutions, DCMS’ Healey powered on by defending the Commission and promoting self regulation, which has been the catalyst of this whole debacle;

SH responded: ‘We would prefer if the actions were taken voluntarily where possible, rather than necessarily through regulation. Especially when we are talking about, you know, we are all expecting it to last, however long it lasts, not to be a permanent situation….’. 

McArthur then goes to quote some predicted figures relating to GGY, clearly confirming that harmful online games will be increasing;

‘GGY [Gross Gambling Yield, which is stakes minus prices], might in overall terms reduce by £1-1.5 billion depending on the length of closure, but in the first month there might be an increase of up to 3% in GGY for remote gaming [which is slots and casino games], increasing to 7% or possibly more than 10% depending on whether the disruption lasts for 3 or 6 months’. 

The report sums up in obvious terms the government’s position on gambling is flawed…..

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This goes to the contradiction at the heart of the Government’s current approach to gambling. It has positioned gambling as an everyday leisure industry, rather than a harmful activity – in which profits of the industry are based on inducing people to lose more and faster. 

The gambling industry is yet again the exception. Where Government has placed the health and welfare of citizens above financial impact, for gambling, industry concerns and profit are placed above the health and well-being of consumers. 

The Committee further pressed the DCMS and McArthur on the dismissive of the evidence and indeed the lack of evidence that creates gaping holes in the regulator’s work;

‘[Ms Healey] you say relatively small numbers, but we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people affected by problem gambling…340,000 isn’t a small number. And it’s not too dissimilar to the numbers of people addicted to hard drugs. So, I can’t quite understand why and how the data gathering [hasn’t] managed to happen?’ – Richard Holden MP 

  • There is no target as to how far the number of problem gamblers should reduce, ‘because what you want is for the target to be as low as it possibly can be’. 
  • ‘You are not measuring what you want to do. You are not measuring the impact of what you do, do. How can we possibly judge you in any way…if you’re ensuring fair and open play, protecting children and the vulnerable or ensuring crime is kept out of gambling, when you’re not measuring the impact or the effectiveness of the measures you are actually taking? 

NM responded: ‘Where we agree with the NAO, and part of the reason we were so keen on work with them, is that tracking direct impact for all regulators is a difficult subject’

MH remarked: ‘Mr McArthur, on this committee we’ve often seen, when [you] shine a spotlight on a problem, the cleansing takes place in the company to replace the top team. That on its own doesn’t necessarily signify change. What evidence do you have that actually makes a difference, or is it not just people shuffling into the same chairs and doing the same thing?’ 

The committee then pressed them both on why it appears that they choose to ignore the wealth of evidence and knowledge of Experts by Experience.  The Gamvisory Group have been completely ignored by The Gambling Commission and many others have been ignored;

‘It’s a rather striking statement. These are people who understand they can tell you…That’s a rich source of knowledge which to build the evidence base, which both you and Miss Healy keep returning to, then I would argue that there’s a lot of evidence out there you’re not drawing on it’. 

Perhaps contrary to what The Committee felt, along with 95% of everyone else that knows of the failings of the regulator. The DCMS representative continued to defend the regulator; 

‘I am confident in the Gambling Commission’s ability to monitor that and then be able to determine when changes are required.’ 

Despite the wealth of evidence of the regulator’s failings and negligence being held both by The Gamvisory Group and consumer support network, Justice for Punters, The Gambling Commission refuse to acknowledge this evidence.  However, DCMS clearly state that evidence is key to proportional regulation;

‘But I would just underline that the Government…is committed to proportional regulation that is evidence-based.’ 

PERHAPS THE MOST STARKEST OF ADMISSIONS:

The committee asks how many complaints there were against the big five operators last year, if McArthur has this information and if it’s publicly available. McArthur responds that ‘they certainly have the information, but he is not sure it’s publicly available. When pressed “why not” he acknowledged that I don’t have the answer to that. 

The Committee referred to the evidence of a crime committed by disordered gamblers to fund their gambling, where industry had not complied with social responsibility codes to intervene, and where not all of the stolen money was recovered from the operator. 

So how can The Gambling Commission know operators aren’t getting proceeds of crime, if it doesn’t carry out investigations of known facts such as this? 

Despite this being such a huge matter, as of course keeping gambling free of crime is one the key principles of The Gambling Act, proper answers weren’t given.  When McArthur was also questioned about this topic at The Lords, he also failed to answer and deflected completely away from the subject.

The report concludes by stating:

It may be worth nothing that DCMS, the Government Department that overseas gambling, also has responsibility for sports, broadcast and digital, including online harms. On the one hand, it seems that the Department may be conflicted by the benefits to sports and broadcasting of gambling industry advertising, marketing and sponsorship. On the other hand, it is not clear that the Department has adequately considered online gambling in the context of its regulation to prevent online harms. 

SNIPPETS FROM TWITTER:

@gamblinginsight put up yet more evidence of potentially sinister marketing ploys from some big named companies, such as GVC owned Foxy Bingo and Corals and Paddy Power.  The ads appeared after Insight typed ‘stopping gambling’ into Google’s search engine.  This issue continues to occur as just a month or so back similar searches on Apple’s ap store showed gambling companies top of the list before any blocking apps.

Remarkably, I just tested the same and not even a blocking app appeared this time, instead just gambling company 32Red appeared.  The company that uses Wayne Rooney to attempt to convince us they’re protecting gamblers at harm, when in reality the messages coming from them and Rooney are about people themselves putting measures in place before they act themselves.

@gondorffhenry from Justice4Punters made some interesting comments relating to a big data company, owed by Transuinion called Iovation, following a report by them suggesting ‘bonus fraud’ is on the increase.  The suggestion from J4P is that in fact, Iovation provides a data code to the many gambling companies that have used its services for some years, which shows whether a customer has previously self-excluded from another gambling company.  The thread suggests that Iovation refuses requests from customers under their legal rights via GDPR/Data Protection laws, for Subject Access Requests.  Furthermore, there is evidence that the gambling companies themselves are absolving themselves of responsibility in assisting customers to obtain this material.  With The Information Commissioner’s Office also unwilling to assist, J4P suggests that the only way this data will be available is through the courts.

Long time campaigner for better protection from the banking sector to protect disordered gamblers, @gamblinghurts suggested that the banking sector have long had the tools to block gambling transactions as these have been in place for some corporate accounts for quite some time.  Gamvisory’s @DanyCheetham, who has also been integral it his field, with his partnership with Pioneers in the field, Monzo Bank also stated that gambling transactions have long been in place for children’s bank accounts also.  Clearly, it took a challenger bank in Monzo and the unsung heroes to continue to pressure the indutsry to do the right thing to force the others into action.  All whilst gambling companies sit back and do very little themselves.

@ChrisMurphy180, a former disordered gambler who was insulted by the BGC’s CEO Michael Dugher recently, has been repeatedly asking the BGC why, following the request for reverse withdrawals to immediately be suspended, big name companies still hadn’t responded to the requests.  As per usual, Murphy was ignored but he continues to press them for accountability and answers.

WHAT HAVE THE GAMBLING COMMISSION SAID NOW?

Following new guidance from the gambling commission, in which they offered ‘guidance’ to licence holders concerning interaction and source of wealth checks, they quoted compliance with POCA, ….’and other relevant laws’ and listed their expectations accordingly. Interestingly, many parts of the list are actually the legal requirements as stipulated in Money Laundering Regulations.  We can only therefore surmise that the ‘other relevant laws’ might be those of Money Laundering Regulations.  Quite why this isn’t spelt out to the public remains a mystery but perhaps joining up the dots of McArthurs evasiveness when asked about crime within gambling, he’s avoided the issue both at The Lords and then the Public Accounts Committee.

The only piece of vaguely interesting information from the Commission was a report they released to state that there had been absolutely no uplift in complaints to them relating to ‘illegal’ gambling sites during lockdown.  

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The regulator’s Executive Director, Richard Watson stated, “Tackling illegal websites and unlicensed operators is challenging and it is also resource intensive, but we are committed to continuing our work in this area to protect consumers here in Britain.”

Meanwhile The results of a Yougov poll suggested that disordered gamblers have increased their activity and spend on UK licensed online gambling sites since the lockdown began showing that they;

  • Spent more online on entertainment (17 per cent of gamblers compared to 11 per cent of all adults).
  • Watched TV more (58 per cent of gamblers compared to 42 per cent of all adults).
  • Viewed more news online (53 per cent of gamblers compared to 49 per cent of all adults).
  • Consumed more on-demand entertainment (51 per cent of gamblers compared to 35 per cent of all adults).

*Read Simon Thompson’s and Alexander Kalman’s full report here:

https://cdn.sanity.io/files/btrsclf0/production/65bb0c15c434c59c881aab0cc2fce155ca275522.pdf