Customer interaction guidance for remote gambling operators: Consultation Response
Topic 5: Section C of the guidance – Take action for customers at risk of harm
The proposed guidance included a scale of interactions which is also reflected in a diagram setting out a visualisation of the types of actions at increasing strength levels (from early generic customer interactions through to very strong customer interactions). We explored whether changes should be considered to make the increasing scale of actions clearer in the guidance.
The proposed guidance in relation to the take up of new bonus offers confirmed that where strong indicators of harm have been identified, the take up of new bonuses should be prevented as soon as practicable. The proposed guidance content was intended to assist gambling operators to identify:
- what is a bonus and a new bonus offer
- which matters should be considered where customers are part way through a bonus offer in order to inform a decision as to whether the customer should be prevented from completing the bonus offer
- considerations about how to be transparent about when they might prevent a customer from receiving a bonus offer
- good practice in relation to bonuses that are partway through and non-monetary bonuses (which are not in scope of the relevant requirement).
In the consultation, we set out that the draft guidance was intended to assist gambling operators to implement automated processes to ensure that strong indicators of harm are acted on in a timely manner, in line with data protection requirements.
- Increasing scale of actions: Do you have any comments on the proposed scale of actions which operators can take, to reflect how actions should increase according to the nature of the indicators of harm?
- Targeting bonus offers: Do you have any comments on the guidance on the requirement to prevent the take-up of new bonus offers and the guidance on issues for customers who are part way through a bonus offer?
- Automated solutions and manual review: Do you have any views on the guidance relating to automated processing and the possible alternative approach to a manual review which would mean operators undertake a substantive review only where the decision was contested by the customer?
- Other comments Section C: Do you have any other comments on Section C of the proposed guidance which relates to taking action when there are indicators of harm?
Increasing scale of actions
A small number of respondents drew attention to the volume of interactions that gambling operators are already undertaking, both directly through an employee and those which are automated in nature.
Some positive feedback was received. Two gambling operators stated that the proposal was reflective of current practice and others used language such as logical and appropriate, sensible and very clear and welcomed, to indicate their support. A member of the public considered that this approach was very sound.
With regard to the ‘strong’ and ‘stronger’ categorisation of actions in the visualisation, some respondents were of the view that in its current format, this could cause confusion. There was support for renaming the ‘stronger’ category as ‘medium-strong’ to aid understanding.
There were calls for more detailed guidance on strong and stronger indicators of harm and their application; though also calls for less guidance and more flexibility.
Recommendations included the consideration of signposting to support at every scale of action.
Concern was noted around the potential for the categories to be interpreted as a rigid requirement which could curtail flexible gambling operator practices in this space, to cater for their particular customer base. This could also mean that where harm is identified, it may not be acted upon as swiftly as it should.
Responses were broadly positive about the requirement that customers displaying strong indicators of harm must not receive marketing or take up new bonus offers and were also generally positive about the associated guidance (but with some exceptions and requests for additional detail as set out further in the following paragraphs).
Some members of the public raised concerns here about the risks of harms associated with bonus offers. These included that they target the vulnerable, are particularly appealing to people when desperate and encourage people back into gambling when they have tried to stop. They suggested that bonus offers be banned or restricted more generally - that is not just where there are strong indicators of harm.
Some gambling operators raised concerns about possible unintended consequences of this part of the requirements and/or guidance: including that a ban on bonus offers could drive customers to spend more of their own funds on gambling, disincentivise them to use gambling-management tools or move to gambling with an unlicensed operator.
Some gambling operators asked whether this part of the guidance is in line with the licensing objective to ‘ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way’, as they considered it to be potentially unfair to customers. One example of this was whether we had considered the consistency with Consumer Protection Regulation of providing advice to gambling operators about an offer that was partially completed when the customer was identified as displaying strong indicators of harm.
Some respondents flagged that they considered it difficult to implement requirement 10 relating to bonus offers without guidance in place. Gambling operator respondents requested further information in the following areas:
- greater clarity on what constitutes a ‘bonus’ and ‘a new bonus offer’
- how to treat the customer funds used to participate in a bonus offer in a partway completed bonus offer
- further information about what the Gambling Commission’s approach to enforcement would be.
Some gambling operators raised concerns about the technical challenges they may face in implementing the requirement in relation to a block on some promotions, and the impact on time and on cost, with one respondent saying it could be particularly difficult if this function is managed by a third party.
Partway through bonuses
Some respondents flagged that they considered it unnecessary to provide guidance about partway through bonuses as these were beyond the scope of the requirements, which relate to new bonus offers.
Some respondents flagged that they considered it unnecessary to provide guidance about non-monetary bonuses as the requirement does not apply to non-monetary bonuses. The responses also flagged that if the guidance is to refer to non-monetary bonuses, a definition would be helpful.
A number of respondents questioned the proposed guidance for this requirement - they were of the view that the draft guidance went beyond what was required by data protection law. They also pointed to the potentially onerous resourcing and financial implications of manual processing. A point was made that if a manual review was applied in every case, the processes would no longer be fully automated and would effectively disentitle respondents from challenging the decision at law.
Positive feedback was received for the alternative approach proposed in the consultation (that is to include content in the guidance making clear the circumstances in which the Commission considers a manual review necessary) which was considered to be compatible with data protection requirements, sensible and desirable for gambling operators and customers.
Finally, some suggestions for good practice were received such as always engaging with customers when taking action to restrict their gambling and that manual reviews should form part of player protection models, even when customers are not contesting automated decisions.
Increasing scale of actions
In order to have a clear increasing scale of indicators of harm, we have reclassified the category previously labelled as 'stronger' as 'medium-strong'.
In addition, we amended the wording on marketing within the medium category to say limiting marketing rather than preventing marketing as this format more neatly illustrates the increasing scale.
We have also removed content about generic safer gambling messaging from the visualisation of the increasing scale of customer interactions, as we considered that it would be clearer to describe this type of safer gambling activity separately from customer interaction.
In response to comments received during the consultation period, we have added more information to explain the Gambling Commission's approach to considerations of what constitutes a bonus offer and whether there has been a new bonus offer to assist gambling operators to understand the approach.
We note the comments from respondents who had concerns about bonus offers more generally and in particular that they considered that they targeted vulnerable customers and should be restricted further than requirement 10 already does.
Further restrictions on bonus offers were beyond the scope of this consultation although we flag that the Commission has committed to consult further on the topic of socially responsible inducements as part of our work to implement commitments we made as part of the government's Review of the Gambling Act 2005, and that interested parties may wish to respond to that future consultation on these matters.
We note the comments made by gambling operators about the potential unintended consequences of restricting bonus offers and also the position that some respondents took that requirement 10 itself may be unfair to customers. These matters are beyond the scope of this consultation which considered the guidance associated with Social Responsibility (SR) Code Provision 3.4.3 rather than the code itself. However, we consider that it is appropriate to take steps to prevent targeting customers with bonus offers where they are showing strong indicators of harm, and we note that many respondents to the consultation (including some gambling operators) also considered on balance that preventing targeted bonus offers was a necessary step to respond to serious indicators of harm.
We noted that some industry respondents considered it difficult to implement requirement 10 without guidance in place. We therefore answered any queries we received from gambling operators outside of the consultation exercise about this requirement to help gambling operators to be compliant.
Partway through bonuses
We have kept guidance content about bonus offers that are partway through but have added further wording to reinforce that the requirements themselves relate only to new bonus offers. There are no requirements in Social Responsibility (SR) Code Provision 3.4.3 relating to bonus offers which a customer is partway through.
It is nevertheless appropriate to include guidance related to bonus offers which are partway through to enable gambling operators to consider what is good practice in these circumstances. The guidance aims to encourage a transparent and fair outcome for customers that are identified as displaying a strong indicator of harm when they are partially through a bonus offer, and we consider it to be consistent with consumer protection law. A gambling operator is therefore required to take into account the guidance on this topic of bonuses which are partway through. References to other relevant Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) requirements are included to remind gambling operators of these requirements.
We have taken a similar approach in relation to non-monetary bonuses where we have made amendments to the guidance to reinforce even further that there is no requirement in Social Responsibility (SR) Code Provision 3.4.3 for gambling operators to prevent non-monetary bonuses. However, we consider it appropriate to provide good practice guidance to help support gambling operators in their consideration, and we have cross-referred to other relevant LCCP requirements in relation to non-monetary bonuses to assist gambling operators in understanding what are non-monetary bonuses.
Whilst compliance with the United Kingdom (UK) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a matter for each gambling operator and ultimately the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and/or the courts, the guidance in relation to requirement 11 is intended to support gambling operator's compliance with the provisions relating to automated processing laid down by Article 22 of the UK GDPR and act consistently with good practice.
We have decided to implement the possible alternative approach to guidance which we explored in the consultation. This is to explain in the guidance that requirement 11 requires a gambling operator to contact the customer and inform them of an automated decision which has legal effects or similarly significantly affects the customer (such as by disrupting customer choice), and their right to contest a fully automated decision. If a customer contests the automated decision, the gambling operator will then be required to conduct a substantive review of the automated decision; but a substantive review of the decision is not required by requirement 11 if the decision is not contested by the customer.
Topic 4: Section B of the guidance continued – Identify vulnerability Next section
Topic 6: Section D of the guidance – Evaluate
Last updated: 2 October 2023
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