Enforcement and Compliance have been and remain to be two of the biggest priorities for the Gambling Commission this year. Having successfully defended an appeal against a regulatory decision this week and handed out another fine in the last couple of weeks, there is no sign that the active levels of enforcement we have seen will be easing up. As Andrew Rhodes, the CEO of the Commission, said last month “in the last 11 months alone 16 operators have paid out a total of £45m because of regulatory failures. A further two have had their operating licence suspended because of regulatory concerns.
For comparison, in the whole of 2016/17 full financial year we took action against 3 operators who paid out £1.7m for regulatory failures.”
There have been a few events in recent weeks where the Commission have spoken in person, the Institute of Licensing National Training Conference, the BACTA Annual Convention and the CEO Briefing. These speeches give a helpful indication of the current hot topics within the Commission itself and what we might be looking at in the future, both for Enforcement and possible regulatory changes.
Sarah Gardener, the deputy CEO, gave the key note speech at the IOL’s National Training Conference. An audience of predominantly local authorities, this speech took a very different tone to the two summarised below. Ms Gardner opened her speech by stressing the importance of “strong collaboration with our partners in regulation” and made it clear throughout that the Commission would like to maintain communication with Local Authorities across the country.
Emphasis was given to the wide range of enforcement powers that the Local Authorities have- a call to action to ensure that they are aware of and are regulating their gambling premises on a local level. Ms Gardner reminded the Local Authorities of, and thanked them for, the data and intelligence that they provide to the Commission to assist in enforcement on the ground.
The 80/20 rule was discussed, although this was given greater air time by Mr Angus (below) and Ms Gardner assured the Local Authorities that the rule is still in place and is as strict as ever. The second call to action from Ms Gardener related to test purchasing, and the Local Authorities ability to regulate businesses on the ground and ensure compliance. Overall a strong emphasis on enforcement and the ability to do more- including site inspections.
Ian Angus, the Director of Policy, spoke at the BACTA Annual Convention in November and spoke predominantly to the third licensing objective, protecting children and vulnerable persons from harm. However the most interesting tid-bit to come out of Mr Angus’ speech were his comments on the 80/20 rule. Many in the industry have called for there to be some lessening of the 80/20 rule to attempt to alleviate some of the pressure of the energy crisis. As it stands, the AGCs must ensure that they have the correct number of machines ‘available for use’. However Mr Angus made it clear that the ability to switch off these machines to save on energy would not be forthcoming, with the 80/20 rule being enshrined in the Gambling Act.
BACTA was praised on the one hand, particularly for taking the initiative and trialling new ways to protect customers, but also warned that the arcade sector would not be safe from enforcement. Again the theme of compliance and enforcement underpinned the speech.
Finally, at the CEO briefing in November Andrew Rhodes, the CEO of the Commission, delivered his thoughts on the state of the industry. Enforcement was raised in his introduction, with the words “you don’t have a choice about us and you’re not required to like us either”, and continued throughout. However he did go on to admit that gambling is not on the rise as the media repeatedly spouts, but is in fact holding fairly steady. Mr Rhodes made some insightful comments regarding the top few operators in the UK, in particular that the top 10 groups now represent 77% of total B2C GGY in Great Britain and the top three groups will represent over 50% when recent mergers are accounted for. A small warning was made that the CMA (Competitions and Markets Agency) may soon come knocking…
An acknowledgment was also made that safer gambling will likely mean less profitable gambling, hence the need to diversify and merge companies. It was made clear, as it has been before, than the Commission will not seek to make decisions for operators on this topic but instead let them decide for themselves where the line is (and of course be there to step in if you get it wrong!).
Mr Rhodes also made it clear that they intend to ramp up their own ‘customer interaction’ and that operators can expect to see far more of the Commission in the coming months.
The latest Licensing, Compliance and Enforcement Policy (June 2022) is also worth a read for all operators, with a few changes implemented at the last consultation.
With the lack of a white paper it is highly likely that we will see more consultations and more LCCP changes, the Commission is an ever changing beast and these insights are invaluable for positioning operations to weather any changes on the horizon. Expect more interaction from the Commission as they continue to implement a more hands on approach to enforcement, from site visits and compliance audits to special measures.