The Gambling Commission’s latest survey opened on 3rd November (closes January 12). It is the result of the Gambling Commission taking a close look at the industry it regulates. This survey concentrates on remote (online) operators. The objectives are summed up in this quote from the survey :
Remote gambling operators already have the capability of identifying customers who may be harmed by gambling. Our evidence shows that the industry has not used this capability sufficiently to reduce harms. We are therefore consulting on stronger requirements that will help ensure remote gambling operators do more to identify consumers who may be harmed by gambling and to interact and take action sufficiently early and effectively to prevent harm
There’s a link to the survey at the foot of this article. I highlighted the parts of it relevant here. This one was very near the end of the survey.
I’ll give you a second to take that in …
…the Gambling Commission has the power to make this a requirement rather than ‘guidance’. They say this information ‘may be appropriate’. Hmm … despite telling us that Gamcare and The Samaritans are working on it now. I suspect the Commission would like it to be appropriate; whether that ambition withstands objections from the industry and its spokesman Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council, we must wait and see.
This is an industry that for decades was ‘regulated’ by the police. I had a Paisley beat bobby enter the betting shop I was managing during the fierce summer of ’76 and tell me I must close the outside door as it was ‘an enticement to bet’. He returned the following week. In passing he had heard the Jimmy Young show playing on my radio. He told me to turn it off. Yep, it was an ‘enticement to bet’.
I’d had enough:
‘How is it an enticement to bet?’
‘Because music can be played on it.’
‘Music is entertainment. Entertainment could be an enticement to enter the premises. People could even start dancing, and that’s against the law.’
I laughed, of course, at last seeing his sense of humour. But he had none.
‘You can laugh, but if you don’t turn that off now I’ll close the shop.’
Them were the days, eh?
In 44 years we’ve moved from comically strict enforcement to tragic attempts by the regulator to prevent punters killing themselves.
The Gambling Commission was set up alongside the 2005 Gambling Act, which became law in 2007; that’s when the Gambling Commission began operations.
Its key brief encompassed three factors:
to keep crime out of gambling,
to ensure that gambling is conducted fairly and openly,
to protect children and vulnerable people
Anyone operating a legal gambling business in the UK must have a licence granted by the Gambling Commission. Licensees are expected to follow the Licence Conditions And Code Of Practice. If they do not follow it, the Gambling Commission can levy a fine, suspend their licence, or revoke it.
In the year ended April 2020 they took these actions:
- Commencing reviews on 49 people who hold personal licences to operate gambling businesses
- Suspending five operating licences
- Revoking 11 operating licences
- Issuing 12 financial penalty packages of regulatory settlements – totalling over £30 million.
- Carrying out 234 security audits and 33 website reviews
- Conducting 350 compliance assessments of land-based and online operators
- Dealing with 630 reports of suspicious betting activity, sports rules breaches and misuse of inside information
- Generating over 3,000 intelligence reports
Revoking 11 operating licences – all online – in one year suggests that the GC are tough taskmasters to their licensees. You’d probably struggle to name as many as 11 online gambling sites, but 11 is a tiny percentage. White label sites alone number 700+. White labels are companies who use an established operator to provide everything they want. This means they need not invest in tech, in staff, and other costs. They’re just using their name in a partnership on the hope of making a few quid. Scottish company McBookie is a good example; they’re in a white label partnership.
So, we know why the Gambling Commission was set up and some of the work it has done. Everything I’ve based this article on comes from the Gambling Commission website. There are a million comments about the Commission in blogs and on social media. Many of those are reliable testimonies. But I wanted to get the Commission’s own view of themselves and how effective they’ve been in the past 13 years.
My conclusion is that if they were to mark their own homework they might award themselves an A minus or B plus. Much to their credit they admit, all in all, that their licensees simply haven’t done what they’re supposed to have done. The puzzling thing is the Commission don’t seem to believe that these failures are anything to do with them.
Gambling Commission Sample Statements
Here are some extracts from their statements:
“It is simple to identify customers who may be at risk of harm (based on available tools)”
“Our evidence is that the industry has not used this capability sufficiently to reduce harms”
“They are not taking the appropriate action or acting quickly enough”
“There is evidence to indicate that there is large-scale issue with remote gamblers betting more than they can afford. 21% had bet more than they could afford, at least sometimes (italics mine).”
“The 2018 Health Survey For England found that 71% of problem gamblers had bet more than they could afford, at least sometimes.”
Now, some extracts from the survey statements. The most relevant parts are underlined or highlighted.
So, do the above quotes/extracts persuade you that this regulator is happy with what its licensees have been doing for many years?
Do you see any admissions by the Gambling Commission that it has made a poor job of its responsibilities?
I have personal experience, going back to about 2008 of dealing face to face with staff at the Commission. I first met them to discuss Gamtrain, training software for betting shop staff. They were unfailingly courteous and polite; nice guys to a T. And that’s the way I’ve always found them. They are the industry’s cops, okay, but they all seem to be good cops, and what this industry has proved it needs is bad cops, or at least a fifty-fifty mix.
I once asked a GC officer why small independent bookies had to pay so much more than the big operators in fees. I paraphrase: “Because we have to visit almost every shop with the small operators, whereas with the likes of Ladbrokes, Hills and co, we just need to visit their head office and we chat over a cup of coffee.”
Hmmm … that might make sense on traditional costings of overheads, but leaving aside the financial disadvantage suffered by the small bookies, it meant the Commission officers weren’t visiting a Ladbrokes shop where drugs might have been changing hands in a corner, or a bunch of under 18s were gathered round the slot machines. Nope, they just asked their host at head office over coffee and pastries how many shops were subject to such activities.
The Commission has snuggled down into a much too cosy relationship with the big battalions. It will argue that in 2018 it fined Hills £6.2m
Systemic senior management failure to protect consumers and prevent money laundering will result in William Hill Group (WHG) paying a penalty package of at least £6.2m.
A Gambling Commission investigation revealed that between November 2014 and August 2016 the gambling business breached anti-money laundering and social responsibility regulations.
Senior management failed to mitigate risks and have sufficient numbers of staff to ensure their anti-money laundering and social responsibility processes were effective
… and £5.9m for Ladbrokes/Coral in 2019 for exactly the same offence. But how much do these fines hurt or deter? The Hills punishment equalled 2.5% of profits that year; Ladbrokes, obviously undeterred by the Hills fine, took a 1% hit.
But that was 2018/2019 maybe the Gambling Commission are realising that all those years of coffee and cakes came at a big price, and they weren’t the ones who paid it.
What the Gambling Commission must do, in my opinion, is cut off personal relationships with all licensees. A degree of cordiality is fine, but when a Gambling Commission licensee opens the door to a Commission officer, the licensee ought to experience the same sensations as a formal investigatory police visit would bring.
The Commission has way too much ‘guidance’ for licensees. It lays down procedures they must follow, but allows them substantial leeway in deciding what action to take. This approach is the equivalent of pointing out what must be followed but allowing, effectively, self regulation around those orders.
Here’s an example: para two
Why do they leave it to the people they are policing to consider the factors and to design their own individual processes? It’s an absolute nonsense and it illustrates that despite all their condemnation of the industry, they have no intention of properly laying down the law in detail.
I’d need to do more research to discover the balance of ‘requirement’ (must be done) to guidance (needn’t be done), and ‘put processes in place’ (do what suits you), but this I know – unless it is a requirement, with every action to be taken set out in detail, the gambling industry will twist and shout until they get the version that allows them to keep profits at their highest.
That is what this industry does.
And it does it to magnificent effect from its own viewpoint and to malignant effect from the viewpoint of many of its customers. It does it to its own long term detriment and probable demise because, ironically, it is addicted to it, to the success of it, to the frantic pace of it. The edifice that is the UK gambling industry could be quietly disassembled by its operators working together, and put back together to assure their long term future and, much more importantly, to help ease the burdens it has laid on the shoulders of the vulnerable.
But they won’t stop. There’ll be no truce for the good of all, because industry chiefs don’t trust each other. They believe that whatever is agreed around a boardroom table will crumble when it comes to the hard part of lifting heads from the trough. They know the end is coming because of what they have done, and they think now in panic that all they can do is keep snuffling desperately from the trough, safe in the knowledge that the farmer with the big stick is impotent. Okay, he is there, and he makes lots of threats, but they have experience; they know that when he finally lifts that stick and brings it down on them it’s made of straw … and they gobble on.
Instead of the industry taking the necessary action, it recently set someone else up to do it in the shape of the benignly named Betting and Gaming Council, who are to be found preaching the gambling gospel mostly on twitter, always in the form of ‘advances we have made toward safer gambling … nothing is more important to us than our customers’ (Indeed), and other such supposedly penitent and soothing nonsense.
I’ve finished my working life now, having gone from digging graves at 16 to being a director on the board of a national bookmaking company at 45. What one lesson has stuck in my head? I learned above all that ‘the fish rots from the head down’. The character of the person at the top of an organisation drives its culture and eventually its actions, which ultimately determines whether it succeeds or fails.
Head of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) is Michael Dugher, appointed in February 2020. Mister Dugher was a Labour MP and former Shadow Secretary Of State For Culture Media And Sport. From my own experience, and that of quite a few others who question the morality and ethics of the gambling industry and then take their concerns to Mister Dugher on twitter, (I tried twice on email: he didn’t answer) his cool head and business grace come to the fore: he calls you a troll, then blocks you.
Who’d have expected the industry to appoint someone like that to bat for them in public, eh?
The Gambling Commission consults with Mister Dugher via the BGC. They ought to do that in the most formal and objective way possible, and if they cannot, then they should have no contact other than to tell him what his industry must do.
And the first thing should be the fixing of the self exclusion system, which has not been fit for purpose since 2007, and in ruins since 2015 when the big bookies decided among themselves what was best for them: this was rubber stamped by the Gambling Commission (see my earlier article)
The next thing the Commission must do is stop the financial rape of ‘high value customers’ also known as VIPs. When one such person strays into target range of the lizards who run these schemes, they’ll find that sticky tongue catching them and reeling them in with promises of match tickets, concert invites, days at the races with plenty ‘free’ booze … all sorts of perks in exchange for lying sprawled every day and night with their wallets wide open. Should one miss a day or two and not log on, be sure his caring ‘manager’ will call to ask how the family is and what he thought of the Liverpool match etc, before telling him there’s a gift of five grand waiting in his account so he can have some fun.
They call it looking after their customers. I call it grooming in preparation for multiple rapes of a victim’s bank account. It should never have been allowed. It has now been ‘amended’. What it should be is banned forever and its perpetrators named and shamed – including those who were ‘just doing their jobs’
That’s it from me for now. The screenshots I mentioned are below in full.
Let me leave you back where we started, contemplating with me the fact that the industry I worked in all my life has been degraded by those who run it, to a point where many people have suffered catastrophe because of what it has done and because of what the Gambling Commission failed to do. Most astonishingly, most shamefully, we have an open admission that formal training – formal staff training – is being considered to help prevent everyday honest customers from committing suicide.
Jesus Christ Almighty.
Below are Screenshots taken from the pages of the Gambling Commission survey mentioned in the article
They don’t admit they have failed, just point out that their licensees haven’t done what they should have done.