UK Gambling Commission Chief Criticizes Licensees for Viewing Fines as ‘Compliance Tax’

  • The UKGC has issued fines totaling more than £100m ($132m) since the 2017/2018 financial year
  • Certain gaming operators are repeatedly committing the same offenses
  • Most of the issues relate to anti-money laundering and social responsibility failings
  • The UK government’s review of the region’s gambling legislation is set to bring significant change
Pile of British pound coins
The UKGC chief executive has criticized operators that appear to look at fines as a “compliance tax,” rather than putting forth the effort to follow regulations. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A huge issue

UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) chief executive Andrew Rhodes has criticized licensees for seemingly viewing fines as a “compliance tax.” Rhodes made these comments while speaking on Wednesday at the 2021 GambleAware conference.

the UKGC has issued financial penalties of more than £100m ($132m) since 2017/2018

He referred to how the UKGC has issued financial penalties of more than £100m ($132m) since 2017/2018, as well as revoked licenses from ten operators. This does not account for those licenses that operators surrendered before the UKGC completed its investigation. Despite the UKGC’s best efforts, Rhodes noted that the gambling regulator is on track to have its busiest year ever for enforcement activity, which causes concern. He spoke about how the same operators are committing the same types of offenses again and again.

Rhodes said: “….my concern is that those operators are starting to see fines as a compliance tax, and that’s something that I’m not prepared to tolerate.”

Rhodes also noted that it is likely “incredibly frustrating” for those operators who are trying hard to raise their standards and to be fully compliant.

Two main failings

As detailed in the UKGC’s Compliance and Enforcement Report for its 2020/2021 financial year, the gambling regulator had to suspend the licenses of five operators, revoke one license, and revoke nine personal management licenses during the financial year. This was at a time when the region was trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were also 15 gambling operators that received regulatory settlements or fines totaling £32.1m ($42.4m), a record sum for a given year. The UKGC conducted 25 full assessments into online operators, five assessments into land-based operators, as well as many website reviews, security audits, and personal license reviews.

Andrew Rhodes was appointed as the interim UKGC chief executive for 18 months in June 2021. The 44-year-old had no previous experience in the gambling industry when applying for the position.

While Rhodes thanked the UKGC’s Enforcement and Compliance Team for the work they have been doing, he believes that operators can do more. The main issues that crop up again and again in the UKGC’s investigations relate to anti-money laundering and social responsibility failings.

These are two key areas of gambling regulation, as they help to keep crime out of gambling and protect people who are engaging in gambling activity. The UKGC’s report claims that many operators are “either not making suitable resources available or are simply putting commercial objectives ahead of regulatory ones.”

Change on the way

The UKGC has been working with industry bodies in recent years to try to cultivate a more responsible gambling environment across the board. Some of the changes that have been put into place include curtailments on gambling-related advertising, a ban on the use of credit cards, limiting VIP programs, and restricting game design and features.

expectation is that some significant changes will be on the way for gambling operators

Many people and groups, however, are calling for more extensive measures. The UK government’s review of the region’s key gambling legislation is nearing an end. The white paper coming off the back of this year-long review is due for publication in the new year. The expectation is that some significant changes will be on the way for gambling operators.