UKGC: protecting vulnerable people is one of our most important duties

Making gambling safer, fairer and keeping it crime free is what drives everyone who works for the Gambling Commission, said Sarah Gardner, acting joint chief executive of the UKGC, in a ‘reducing risks, tackling harms’ speech at the Shard Financial Vulnerability Summit 2021.

In a lengthy address, Gardner placed a central focus on vulnerability, an issue she described as “key to how we tackle gambling harms and reducing risk in gambling” as she asserted that “protecting vulnerable people is one of our most important duties and it’s one we take seriously”.

The Commission says that it has defined a customer in a vulnerable situation as somebody who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to gambling harm, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.

Acknowledging that “vulnerabilities differ and the appropriate response will depend on the circumstances,” Gardner says that “one of the major projects that will help identify and then protect vulnerable people from gambling related harm” is the development of a single customer view.

“Currently no gambling operator has a full picture of a customer’s gambling. We recognise this increases the challenge of keeping a customer safe where operators currently only have a partial view of a customer’s behaviour. 

“A single customer view would give operators a full picture of a customer’s risk of harm whilst keeping the customer’s data secure. A single customer view could dramatically help reduce harm and that is why we will not accept progress at the pace of the slowest on this work. 

“This project is also an excellent demonstration of collaboration to protect people and reduce risk. We are working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office to make sure the project will protect consumers data. 

“Following the ICO’s work to establish a legal basis for the project and ensure consumers’ data is protected and secure, we will look to industry to begin solution trials as soon as possible. So we are also supporting operators as they work with us to develop the technology to test and then roll out the project.”

Furthermore, Gardner also touched upon a call for evidence that closed earlier this year, following over 13,000 responses, into how online gambling companies identify and intervene with customers suffering or at-risk of harm.

“It is of course a controversial and complex area and we need to strike an appropriate balance between consumer protection and concerns about privacy and consumer choice. Such a volume of responses will take time to process. But this will not stop us dealing with levels of harm that are clearly well beyond any border line of acceptable risk.

“Our live casework makes this clear. In far too many of our compliance assessments we still find failings relating to customer interaction and affordability.

“You can also look at the casework examples in last year’s Compliance and Enforcement Report. Such as the online casino customer who, in one gaming session lasting over seven hours, amassed losses of £16,500 and the only interaction during this time was to ask the customer to confirm a new card to make sure the payment was theirs. 

“Then in another seven hour session there were no interactions made at all with that customer. No one can tell me that is a border line case.”

In rounding up, Gardner asserts that the regulator will take steps towards introducing requirements on operators to take action at more appropriate levels, with immediate action to focus upon preventing the “types of cases we still see too much of in our casework”.

“In particular this will tackle where operators have allowed people to gamble amounts that are clearly unaffordable, with very limited or no customer interaction until a very late stage; we will act to prevent harm to those who are financially vulnerable,” it is noted.

Before closing by stating: “Progress is being made but reducing harm and risk is not a short term project with easy fixes. It takes a collective effort with us all playing our part. Yes, that means at times we will need to scrutinise and be scrutinised. 

“When people are suffering harm it will always be hard for everyone to agree on what to prioritise. But by keeping a clear view on who is vulnerable to gambling harms and working together we can make a difference.

“We at the Gambling Commission continue to stand ready to work with and support others in this effort. That includes gambling operators. We know many gambling firms have had a tough year and tougher decisions to make to save jobs and livelihoods. We will work with those operators who step up to work with us.

“But we will not move at the pace of the slowest. Considering the future won’t cause us to compromise the here and now. Even through the turbulence of the pandemic, we have made progress. We are on the right track. So, let’s keep on going together.”

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