Watchdog warns operators of surge in online gambling by vulnerable customers

The Edinburgh-based chairman of the UK Gambling Commission has urged operators to enforce strict measures to protect Scotland’s 160,000 people at risk of developing addiction during the Covid-19 pandemic due to a rise in online gambling.

By Kevan Christie
Sunday, 12th April 2020, 11:06 am
Updated Sunday, 12th April 2020, 11:07 am
Call for strict measures to protect consumers after rise in poker, slots and casino gaming after coronavirus closes betting venues
Call for strict measures to protect consumers after rise in poker, slots and casino gaming after coronavirus closes betting venues

Bill Moyes has outlined the stringent measures taken by the UK’s £14.4bn industry to protect consumers through a continued campaign of tough enforcement activity.

He says the “key concern” for the sector is the impact of social distancing which has seen temporary closure of all land-based betting venues which led to an overall reduction in gambling.

However, this has seen an increase in certain online products – including slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports.

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The commission wrote to online operators last week to clarify the need for them to ensure they continue to protect their customers – especially the most vulnerable.

At present there are around 36,000 people in Scotland who are classed as problem gamblers.

Moyes said: “Over the years, and linked to this, I’ve spoken to many people who have been impacted by gambling and families who have lost loved ones who were addicted to gambling. It is this knowledge, and the hard work of my 300 colleagues, that led to the enforcement action we’ve taken in recent weeks.

“This action included the suspension of two online operators for failing to adhere to the new online self-exclusion rules GAMSTOP and of our toughest penalty yet for a high-profile national casino group, who operate a large venue in Glasgow,

“This action also led to senior managers surrendering their licences for a multitude of failings.

“This demonstrates to the industry the consequences of failing in its regulatory and societal duties and shows our critics why it is not just the online sector where our focus should be.

“As a regulator, and perhaps now more than ever, we focus on instilling acceptable behaviours in operators and then demonstrating what happens to those who behave badly and cause gambling-related harm.

“This week was a good example of that and shows that when we say we will take tough action, we will.”

Earlier this month the commission imposed its biggest ever fine of £13m on Caesars Entertainment, the UK arm of the US casino company, over its failure to prevent addicted gamblers from losing hundreds of thousands of pounds.

As a result of the probe, three senior managers have left the company and surrendered their personal gambling operator’s licences. 

The watchdog said that Caesars had failed to stop two gamblers with known gambling problems from losing more than £550,000 in a year. It also did not adequately check the source of funds for a number of customers, one of whom played with £3.5m and lost £1.6m in a three-month period, sometimes using a company card to withdraw cash.

Moyes added: “We also unveiled plans for tighter controls for high-spending consumers and restricted under-25s from joining VIP schemes, strengthened online advertising rules to better protect vulnerable groups and made moves to improve the safety of online gaming products.

“This is only the start of this work and we have made it clear that we expect even more improvements from operators in the coming months. We want to do more to work with the industry to see it change further and faster to protect consumers here in Scotland. This was also a message I delivered last summer at the Edinburgh launch of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.

“Some commentators have pressed the commission to do more. The need for tougher enforcement action is something we keep constantly under review.

“Our long-term strategy, our recent action and further ongoing enforcement work to be announced shortly, demonstrates the reach of the commission and the very real changes we are making to the industry, especially at a time when it is paramount that operators put consumer safety front and centre in every decision.

“But if further steps are necessary to improve the protection of vulnerable gamblers, we will act.”