- Regulator is consulting on better protections for problem gamblers
- Bookmakers and casinos may be forced to fund improved free self-exclusion tools
- Code of practice likely to be tightened in other areas
- Customer interactions and disputes also under the microscope
The UK Gambling Commission is exploring options for tightening its code of practice to better protect problem gamblers. One proposal is to force gambling operators to pay for software that self-excluders can use to block their accounts.
Free exclusion tools
The UKGC describes blocking software as “a helpful tool to add friction between a compulsion to gamble and the ability to be able to do so.” It has put out a call for evidence to all stakeholders, including consumers, as part of a review on digital tools for self-excluders.
Specifically, the regulator wants to examine whether bookmakers and online gambling platforms should offer self-exclusion software free of charge to problem gamblers and how to best deliver such options.
This is the latest move to tighten up self-exclusion mechanisms. Until fairly recently, gamblers wanting to self-exclude had to declare themselves excluded at each gambling operator where they held an account.
Self-excluders have often found this process to be time-consuming and not always successful. There have been numerous reported instances of problem gamblers being able to override their exclusion.
In January, GamStop – a free one-stop shop where problem gamblers can exclude themselves from multiple accounts at a stroke – was discovered to be deeply flawed. A BBC investigation revealed that GamStop users could cheat the platform by using a different email address to continue gambling.
The platform is less than a year old, and its CEO Fiona Palmer was forced to admit it was not working well enough.
Alongside improving self-exclusion mechanisms, the UKGC is consulting widely on other measures to protect problem gamblers and vulnerable people from harm. Where it identifies weaknesses, the UKGC says it will amend the code of practice.
One area under scrutiny is customer interaction, which the UKGC describes as “how gambling businesses identify and interact to help customers who may be at risk of or experiencing harms associated with gambling.” The consultation will examine what currently works and whether its existing guidance needs to be strengthened.
The consultation will also look at complaint procedures and how disputes are handled. The regulator’s code of practice already obliges licensed gambling operators to adhere to prescribed standards. They must offer to resolve disputes via an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider.
The UKGC has already drawn up a new framework for ADR providers, which includes additional requirements. These cover standards for customer service, the decision-making process, and supporting the gambling industry. The aim is to clarify the role of ADR providers and their independence from gambling operators.
Now the UKGC wants to hear views on the proposals in the framework before reviewing its approved providers against the additional standards.
The UKGC’s executive director, Paul Hope, said: “We would like as many people as possible to have their say on these two consultations and the call for evidence. The proposed changes are intended to accelerate progress in protecting consumers and preventing them from experiencing gambling-related harm.
“Making gambling fairer and safer is at the heart of how we regulate and better customer interaction, higher ADR standards and facilitating readily available blocking software are all part of this.”
The consultations are open until May. They launch on the back of new regulations published just three days ago by the Committee of Advertising Practice to protect children from exposure to gambling ads.