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Annual report and Accounts 2019 to 2020

Making gambling fairer and safer

A year in review

In this section we reflect on the work we have done in the second year of our three-year Corporate Strategy to ensure strong regulation, while protecting consumers from gambling harm.

As set out in our corporate business plan, our five key focus areas are:

  • protect the interests of consumers
  • raise standards in the gambling market
  • prevent harm to consumers and the public
  • improve the way we regulate
  • optimise returns to good causes from lotteries.

Summary of achievements – 2019-20 corporate business plan milestones

30 milestones were due, 23 were achieved, 4 were rescheduled and will be delivered during 2020-21 and 3 were superseded.

Summary of achievements 2019-20 corporate business plan milestones. The image shows the number 30 surrounded by a circular ring. The ring is split into 3 segments; milestones achieved, milestones rescheduled and milestones superseded.

Our 2019-20 Business Plan (PDF opens in new window) details our milestones.

Other milestones and significant achievements are detailed on pages 19 to 23.

Protect the interests of consumers

Consumers continue to be at the heart of our regulatory approach and as gambling behaviour changes we work hard to stay on top of emerging trends to make sure our work is focused in the right areas.

This year we have continued to implement the recommendations from our review of online gambling in 2018. This year following a consultation, we introduced a ban on the use of credit cards for gambling and working with our partners, continued to further strengthen protections in relation to unfair practices, complaints and disputes, customer interaction and online age and identity verification.

On 1 April, the day of the introduction of the £2 stake cut on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, we stepped in to remind operators of their responsibilities in keeping consumers safe following the introduction of products which went outside the rules. The stake cut has, in turn, played a role in the rise of certain types of online gambling over the past 12 months.

This year our key activities in this area were:

A ban on credit cards for online gambling was introduced on 14 April and we continue to monitor and evaluate the ban, watching closely for any unintended circumstances for consumers.

Following a consultation, we improved alternative dispute resolution standards by requiring operators to use only providers who meet our additional standards.

Our Consumer Contact Centre is the main point of contact for consumers and the public. During 2019, the team received 10,000 complaints about operators which helped support and inform our regulatory approach.

We commissioned a piece of consumer research to understand how we can best inform consumer decision-making and assist harm prevention.

Along with guidance, we wrote to online operators upon the outbreak of COVID-19 crisis reminding them of their responsibilities to their customers with millions of people having to observe social distancing rules.

Through our research and insight we constantly analyse data, markets, products and trends. These insights allow us to look at the risks and opportunities in the industry which inform our work. This year has included the growth in online gambling and consumers' move to mobile.

Prevent harm to consumers and the public

Minimising and preventing gambling harms is a core focus and we are continuing to use our full range of powers, alongside effective partnership working, to enhance the protections that exist for consumers.

Launched in April 2019, the three-year National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms sets a clear roadmap for how the Gambling Commission and others can take joined up action to better protect consumers. The strategy has already resulted in a variety of positive actions which includes the launch of a Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling by the Howard League for Penal Reform, while the expansion of national NHS gambling clinics was also positive step forward.

Our regulatory activity was focussed on three areas during the past year – building preventive measures to protect vulnerable consumers, increasing the support for those who may be experiencing harm, and taking action against those gambling operators that were not meeting their obligations to protect their consumers. We continue to use regulation to raise standards and expectations on how the gambling industry should seek to prevent and reduce gambling harms.

Our key activities in this area were:

We collaborated with partners to launch the new National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, engaging with stakeholders from across the industry and other partners from the regulatory, public health and business sectors. Events were also held in Cardiff and Edinburgh to launch the strategy.

We ensured the successful delivery of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms by publishing and updating an approved list of RET recipients.

We published an implementation plan actions map to support coordination for the effective delivery of action under the new Strategy.

We contributed to groups across England, Scotland and Wales to coordinate action to reduce gambling harms – in England this is through the government-led Research, Education and Treatment Steering Group, and in Scotland and Wales this is through Strategy Implementation Groups which include a range of public health and statutory partners.

We strengthened requirements for operators to interact with consumers at risk of harm.

We assessed industry progress on the development of games designs – determining where regulatory intervention was required.

We set the industry challenges to focus on making rapid progress on key areas of risk: safer games design, use of VIP incentives and the use of advertising technology.

Through the safer games design challenge the industry committed to some changes to make products safer including minimum spin speed on casino games and the removal of game features which encourage intense play. We assessed industry progress and determined that more work was needed to be done to make progress and work began to consult on changes to the LCCP. The Advertising Technology challenge aimed to reduce the amount of online advertising seen by children, young people and vulnerable adults. This led to progress including a common list of negative search terms; better use of customer data and an industry code of conduct.

Through the collaborative work on the VIP incentives challenge an industry group was established to develop an industry code which addressed poor practices around the management and incentivisation of high value and high spending customers. The industry’s voluntary code will form the basis of proposals for a public consultation to mandate measures controlling the management and incentivisation of high value customers for all licensees.

We approved the Gamstop scheme – making it a requirement for all online operators to be signed up to Gamstop by 31 March, and supported via approval of regulatory settlements, a number of key projects to trial effective pathways and delivery of community support and treatment.

We began a trial for a data repository through the ‘Patterns of Play’ workstream which is helping to further understand consumer trends and behaviours.

We supported research and dissemination by key partners, including by Gambling Research Exchange, which now makes available a website, e-newsletter and a number of tools for evidence exchange to ensure research leads to action.

We partnered with Twitter to publish a guide for consumers on how to limit their exposure to gambling content.

We undertook proactive compliance work to crackdown on Google Ads for gambling being served to vulnerable consumers searching for advice on how to gamble safely and how to self-exclude online.

We worked closely with CAP and the ASA to review the findings of an interim report on the effects of gambling advertising on children, young people and vulnerable adults, and to identify and take forward actions. Formal engagement is ongoing.

Raise standards in the gambling market

Our role is to ensure that standards are constantly being raised across the industry to protect consumers. We do this through a variety of ways – through our day to day licensing work, targeted compliance activity, and where we see standards not being met, using our enforcement powers.

This year we have seen changes in the way that we engage the industry on key priority topics. We have taken a collaborative approach to bringing operators together to work on finding solutions for issues such as customer interaction and creating a Single Customer View. Through our engagement with the industry and its most senior leaders, we have been actively promoting a tone from the top of organisations to lead a culture of compliance and commitment by doing the right thing for consumers.

We have been clear about our expectations of the industry and where we need to see improvement, we are committed to supporting them in raising standards. Where we find operators standards are failing consumers, we will continue to take tough action.

Our key activities in this area were:

We undertook an extensive programme of compliance activity including; completing 101 full assessments of 90 operators; 55 of these were of online operators and 35 were of land-based operators. Additionally, we completed 257 targeted assessments of 185 operators; 110 of these were of online operators and 75 were of land-based operators. We also carried out 33 website reviews, 234 security audits and reviewed 61 personal licences as part of our regulatory work.

We have seen a growth in our enforcement activity against land and online based operators and personal licence holders. We have continued to hold operators to account for failings around anti-money laundering, social responsibility controls and customer interaction issues. Our casework led to the suspensions of seven online operators and 11 licence revocations. 12 operators received financial penalty packages or made regulatory settlements.

In 2019-20, our intelligence team, who provide a confidential ear to the industry and the public, as well as being our main gateway to partner agencies such as the National Crime Agency, international law enforcement organisations, and sports governing bodies, generated 3,239 intelligence reports, relating to a number of issues including social media lotteries, unlicensed remote operators and money laundering. 92 Incident Referral Forms (IRFs) were submitted by the unit to Incident Management Group (IMG) for consideration.

Our Sports Betting Intelligence Unit received 635 reports which included issues such as suspicious betting activity, sports rules breaches, misuse of inside information, Gambling Act offences or other criminality. Football and tennis continue to be the source for the majority of these calls and reports.

We have continued to work to shut down illegal gambling, working closely with law enforcement agencies, the UK Cyber Centre and consumers to gather intelligence and take action against black market gambling.

We have assessed the ongoing suitability of our licensees by using a variety of tools, such as regulatory data and interaction with stakeholders. In the past year we have processed 236 operator licence applications, with 2,056 individuals applying for a personal licence.

Through a variety of interactive events and publications we delivered a best practice programme for the industry, this included an event around forming a Single Customer View.

We published our second annual enforcement report which outlined case work during 2018-19. The document also provided lessons learned from our investigations for industry to use as a guide to raise standards within their own businesses. Together with case studies, the report provided guidance on anti-money laundering, customer interaction, self- exclusion, unfair terms and practices, and marketing and advertising.

We continued to ensure Boards focused on their responsibilities to be tested via corporate evaluations and assurance statements.

Through initiatives such as Know Your Customer we continued to develop operator and sector oversight to intensify actions.

We supported the UK Government in developing the role of the Regulatory Supervisor for Money Laundering.

With recommendations, we published the 2019 Money Laundering Risk Assessment document.

We continue to implement changes to the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice to raise operator standards in identifying and addressing gambling harms.

Through our internal initiative ‘Hot Shoes’, several staff from the Commission spent valuable time with operators and other industry partners to learn more about their work and their approaches which will help our future regulation.

Optimise returns good causes from lotteries

Lotteries, including the National Lottery, make significant contributions to society and generate important funds for good causes – with £42 billion raised by the National Lottery since its launch in 1994. Those good causes include funding sports, arts, heritage and community projects.

The National Lottery has made a difference to the lives of millions and continues its positive impact on society. The Commission’s role is to ensure it is run with propriety whilst protecting the interests of every player and making sure funds are maximised for good causes. The National Lottery celebrated its 25th birthday in November 2019 and a series of high-profile events took place all over the country which told the story of its success.

This year our major priority has been to design and prepare to launch a fair and open competition for the next licence. The competition will launch in 2020 and the next licence will begin in 2023.

Our key activities in this area were:

We approved joint marketing investment proposals between the Operator and good causes for Lotto, EuroMillions, Set for Life and the National Lottery Brand. Performance of existing marketing investment proposals indicate that these decisions stand to significantly benefit good causes during the 2020/21 financial year.

We continued to focus on players’ interests, undertaking a review of our approach to regulating scratchcards which led to the Operator removing a product associated with problem gambling from the market.

As part of the National Lottery family we played a role on both the steering group and the working group in creating a national campaign to celebrate the National Lottery's success and shine a light on its contribution to society.

The benefits continued to be felt from our response last year to the current Operator’s strategy to increase money raised for good causes – where following high levels of scrutiny three significant proposals and a number of minor proposals from the Operator were approved, including game changes to EuroMillions and Lotto.

Returns to good causes finished the financial year at £1.79 billion. It has been a strong year, partly as a result of jackpot rollovers seen on EuroMillions. The Set for Life game is also performing well.

In response to Government plans, we launched a consultation on measures to amend prize and ticket sales limits for Society Lotteries, as well as enabling consumers to make better informed decisions about whether to gamble.

We built engagement and excitement through special briefings on the competition for the next National Lottery Licence – engaging with a range of organisations including technology providers.

We have carried out and concluded a series of market engagement interactions which has informed the development of the next National Lottery Licence and competition.

As part of the series of interactions we made available to the market the draft licence and the draft invitation to apply for the next National Lottery competition; a part of the crucial development phase.

We have addressed the feedback from the market and will launch the next licence competition later this year.

Improve the way we regulate

Our risk and evidence-based approach to regulation continues to ensure high standards are maintained and play a role in setting the direction for others in the industry to follow as we work to ensure the industry is safe, fair, free from crime and free from the risks of money laundering.

We continue to monitor and review our performance as a regulator with innovation and technology constantly evolving. In the past year our administrative and licensing procedures were made more efficient and digitally accessible for the thousands of people who use those services.

This year our key activities in this area were:

We introduced a number of new online services, including manage and maintain a personal licence, and GOV.notify.

With new online accessibility legislation soon to come into force, we have continued to improve our website and microsites to ensure they are redesigned and restructured ahead of the deadline in September 2020.

We continued to improve and consolidate our software and hardware estate, moving further towards an entirely cloud based infrastructure, reducing costs and improving resilience.

We have refreshed our People Strategy, setting out our aspirations and objectives to ensure that the Gambling Commission is a great place to work and develop.

We consulted further with stakeholders on how we collect, check and use operator data. The proposals for change reflected our continued focus on consumers and social responsibility, and sought to reduce the amount information we require operators to provide to us.

We conducted our annual fees health check which led us to conclude that changes to our fees are necessary. Our fees are set by the Secretary of State so we have started to develop proposals for discussion with DCMS.

We introduced a user research programme, to work alongside our users and improve our digital services and websites.

We welcomed the National Audit Office (NAO) review of gambling regulation which reported at the end of February 2020. We continue to work with the NAO and other stakeholders to take forward the recommendations.

We undertook a comprehensive Board effectiveness review which evaluated the performance of the Board, its committees, the chair and the Executive Directors. The review was positive overall and did not find any significant issues but did make some suggestions to improve in a few areas.

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