UKGC Warns ‘Consumers Must Be Protected’ From COVID-19 Gambling Harm

  • Commission chairman Neil McArthur issued a letter to all UK gambling operators
  • Advised businesses to look out for vulnerable consumers amid the COVID-19 lockdown crisis
  • Laid out responsible practices such as customer affordability checks, cautious cross-selling
  • Pointed out that social distancing measures have led to a surge in online gambling activity
computer keyboard with the word VULNERABILITY
UKGC chairman Neil McArthur has advised industry operators to be on the lookout for vulnerable gamblers during the COVID-19 lockdown. [Image:]

Chairman stresses duty towards online customers

The chairman of the United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC), Neil McArthur, has warned operators that they still have a duty towards online customers, despite physical premises closing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a letter distributed to all gambling operators on Thursday, McArthur said the commission had expectations that customers must still be protected despite rapidly changing guidelines. Other requirements included appropriate marketing and a commitment to following license conditions and codes of practice.

Uncertain times for both operators and gamblers

In his letter, McArthur explained that the UKGC has been evaluating its next steps after the news emerged last week that betting shops would need to close. He said the commission will make operators aware of any direction shortly.

be very mindful that customers may be vulnerable and experiencing financial uncertainty”

McArthur added that as protections for vulnerable customers and children could be severely disrupted by current procedures, operators may need to be more vigilant. He said: “We expect you to be very mindful that customers may be vulnerable and experiencing financial uncertainty, whilst others may be experiencing other effects of being isolated including feelings of anxiety, loneliness or boredom.”

His message was followed by a warning to operators to abide by the current regulatory framework or potentially face consequences.

Important responsibility principles outlined

McArthur’s letter laid out principles for gambling operators to act responsibly. These include carrying out individual customer affordability checks and stepping in if registered account holders showed any signs of being at risk of harm.

operators must exercise caution when cross-selling products

The onboarding of new customers must also be done in a socially responsible way. Operators must exercise caution when cross-selling products to customers who have signed up to bet. Affiliates are also expected to abide by the same conditions.

Any behavior that is deemed irresponsible by the UKGC will be followed up automatically. A confidential information hotline is available for customers seeking to report operators who are not following the current guidelines.

Online gambling uptake acknowledged

McArthur noted that operators have seen a surge in online gambling as a result of social distancing measures imposed on UK citizens. The nationwide lockdown requires people to spend the majority of time at home, only allowing them to go out for exercise once a day or to pick up essential shopping.

He added that the reported increase in gambling customers was mainly observed for “online slots, poker, casino gaming, and virtual sports.”

Many operators’ non-online businesses are at risk following the closure of physical betting shops and a widespread global shutdown of the sporting season. Others have already issued profit warnings for the rest of the year.

The UKGC has encouraged operators to get in touch if they feel that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their business in other ways than those it noted. The commission is currently gathering evidence on the impact of the coronavirus on the gambling industry.

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