May 18, 2018
On 17 May 2018, the Government published its response to the consultation on proposals for changes to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures.
Having considered the responses to the conclusion, the Government is taking forward measures on gaming machines, and “driving action across online, advertising, research, education and treatment and more widely, the public health agenda in regard to gambling”.
We set out below a summary of key takeaway points on online gambling and advertising.
The consultation outlined a package of measures to improve protections for those who gamble online including:
- The introduction of a new multi-operator self-exclusion scheme for online gambling;
- New requirements to improve the information available to players to help manage their gambling; and
- A call to the gambling industry to increase the pace of change to incorporate behavioural analytics into their responsible gambling systems.
The consultation response
The consultation response includes suggestions for additional protections including:
- Preventing the use of credit cards to gamble online;
- preventing online gambling between midnight and 6am;
- prohibiting reverse withdrawals;
- limits on stakes and prizes; and
- a long-term objective for a single, integrated multi-operator exclusion scheme covering both online and land-based operators.
Concerns have also been raised around products that enable ‘continuous play’, and the risks to children and young people of ‘skins’ gambling.
Gambling Commission/Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) advice
The Gambling Commission’s (the “Commission”) review found that, although online operators are taking steps to minimise harm, operator’s progress in enhancing player protection measures has been slower than expected – and is not consistent across the sector.
The Commission’s action plan
The Commission will bring forward proposals for consultation in the following areas:
i. Age verification
(a) The removal of current 72 hour window for age verification; and
(b) A requirement for age verification before consumers can access free-to-play games.
ii. Customer identification
(a) A new customer due diligence requirement to enable operators to gather more information about their customers at an earlier stage; and
(b) proposals for the introduction of mandatory limits on player spending which can only be increased once an operator has verified information (i.e. affordability check).
iii. Unfair terms and conditions
(a) The Commission to carry out compliance activity to test how operators are making changes to ensure promotions are clear and fair; and
(b) Guidance to be published on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services.
iv. Ineffective customer interaction
(a) Strengthening operators’ requirements to interact with their customers.
Areas of further work
i. Effectiveness of the current consumer protections
(a) Strengthening the range of tools available to consumers to control their gambling to be considered.
ii. Game and product characteristics
(a) Possibility of a review of “in-game” features that may incentivise players to play for longer and/or spend more.
iii. Requirements on the protection of customers funds and protections around dormant accounts
iv. Gambling on credit
(a) Whether gambling using credit cards online should continue to be permitted.
v. Withdrawal of funds
(a) Requirements to undertake due diligence checks earlier to avoid delays in withdrawal; and
(b) the practice of “reverse withdrawals”.
The Government’s response
Progress made to date
Since the consultation was published, the Government noted that progress has been made in enhancing the measures in place to protect players from harm, including:
- The implementation of new rules which require operators to provide customers with more information about their gambling activity;
- The initial launch of the new multi-operator self-exclusion scheme; and
- The publication of new guidance by the Commission (and the industry) on how operators can do more to interact with customers at risk of problem gambling.
The Government noted “the recent publication by industry of good practice guidelines to help operators develop or implement systems to recognise indicators of problem gambling behaviour and to interact with customers to reduce the risk of harm occurring“.
The ongoing research commissioned by GambleAware is expected to conclude in 2019 and aims to produce a best practice model for harm minimisation which operators can adopt. The research has already found that “the industry could accurately detect problem gamblers using data held by operators today, with a refined set of 22 predictive markers – including time of play and time spent playing – which operators should consider when designing their customer interaction policies”.
Use of technology
The Minister for Sport and Civil Society will co-chair a roundtable with Margot James, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries, to bring together stakeholders from the gambling and technology sectors and move towards a wider roll-out of best practice [in respect of the development of algorithms to identify potential harmful play].
The Government expects to see the “full and effective rollout of GAMSTOP to include all online licensed operators at the earliest opportunity” and welcomes “the industry’s commitment to review the scheme’s ability to offer a marketing suppression facility… at the earliest opportunity”.
The Government’s Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper outlines how the Government will work with online platforms, game publishers and game developers, and with agencies, to continue to improve online safety in games. The Government will respond to the Strategy in due course.
Expectations on operators
The Government expects operators to:
- Trial a range of harm minimisation measures using customer data to strengthen their responsible gambling policies and processes;
- Evaluate interventions to ensure they are effective; and
- Share outcomes across the industry to raise standards.
The Government expects the industry to make “rapid improvements to the player protection measures currently in place” and if operators fail to demonstrate sufficient progress, “the Government and the Commission has strong powers to introduce additional controls or restrictions on the online sector”.
The consultation outlined a package of measures and initiatives to address concerns about gambling advertising, including:
- Addressing the tone and content of adverts to strengthen protections further, by providing counterbalancing messages to raise awareness of risk associated with gambling; and
- Making sure the Commission has the right sanctions available to ensure that operators comply with the advertising codes.
The consultation response
Responses from broadcasters and the online gambling industry emphasised the controls already in place on gambling advertising and welcomed the new CAP guidance.
Senet reported that it is making its responsible gambling content available to all operators, not just Senet partners.
The responses set out several suggestions for improvement, including the need for further work to restrict:
- Direct marketing;
- the total volume of gambling advertising; and
- sponsorship and broadcast advertising around sporting events (in particular football before the watershed).
Concerns were also raised about the targeting and impact of “free bets” and promotional offers on young and vulnerable people.
The Commission’s advice
The Commission stated that it shares public concerns that gambling advertising could lead to harm for children and vulnerable people, but that the evidence “is not clear”.
Further, the Commission noted that it will continue to work with partners to improve the evidence and will “encourage regulators and trade bodies with DCMS leadership to work with social media platforms to help vulnerable people limit their exposure to online advertising”.
The Government’s response
The Government noted “substantial progress” against many of the actions in the package outlined in the consultation document including:
- The launch of the Commission’s consultation into raising compliance with CAP/BCAP advertising codes, meaning breaches could be subject to the full range of the Commission’s regulatory powers;
- the publication of CAP guidance in February 2018 focussing on protections for those vulnerable to problem gambling and on “free bets” and bonuses; and
- the agreement made by the industry as to the introduction of a requirement that a responsible gambling message or a reference to begambleaware.org will appear on screen throughout the length of a TV advert.
The Commission is also proposing the introduction of a new requirement to prevent consumers from receiving spam marketing by email or SMS and to make clear to licensees that they are responsible for the actions of any third party organisations that they use.
“Problem gambling rates have remained relatively stable during a period of considerable growth in advertising volumes” and the Government noted that the overall impact is “small”, although there are potential risk factors in the form of claims, imagery or approaches that might unduly influence people to behave irresponsibly.
Further advice for social media/online advertising
The response sets out advice on the current expectations for social media platforms and online advertising, as follows:
- Advertising codes apply across all advertising platforms, including social media and online;
- Technology has an important role in protecting children and young people from online advertising in identifying the audience and better targeting adverts at those who are interested;
- Data should be used to form a view of customers’ likely age when targeting adverts for gambling products (including declared age and customers’ interests); and
- Operators are required to age-gate gambling content and gambling channels on social media.
What is next?
The Government welcomed the responses to its call for action in minimising the risks, but understands that the “tone and content of adverts must be improved and responsible gambling messaging strengthened”. Its intention is to support regulators as they strengthen protections and equip consumers with the necessary knowledge.
In particular, we should expect to see the following in relation to gambling advertising:
- Further guidance on protecting children and young people to be published later this year;
- Major responsible gambling advertising campaign to run for two years, led by GambleAware – expected to go live later this year;
- New research on the effects of marketing and advertising on children, young people and vulnerable people, commissioned by GambleAware. The research project will run for twelve months, until the beginning of 2019;
- A review by the industry of GAMSTOP for the inclusion of a marketing suppression facility; and
- The Commission to continue its work to encourage social media platforms to develop settings and preferences to limit customers’ exposure to gambling advertising.