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GambleAware Annual Conference 2023 - Andrew Rhodes speech

06 December 2023

This speech was delivered by chief executive Andrew Rhodes at the GambleAware Annual Conference on 6 December 2023.

Please note: This is the speech as drafted and may slightly differ from the delivered version.

Thank you everyone for being here today. Thanks also to the Minister for his reflections just now.

GambleAware are cramming a lot in today and for good reason given how much is going on in gambling at the present time. So I will not hang around with what I have got to say. But I think the overarching idea of today’s conference, that we all do well to work together: together making good on delivering the White Paper and safer gambling, is an important one and I’ll give you my take on what that looks like but first I want to touch on why we are able to talk about working together so confidently. And that brings me back to the progress we have seen over recent months.

Some of you may have heard me make this argument recently already but I think it bears repeating. Since I was last speaking to your Conference, two years ago, we at the Gambling Commission have seen a step change in the gambling industry’s commitment to meeting our standards and comply with our rules. In turn we have then seen a reduction in the most extreme and unacceptable examples of failings in our casework as well. I am not saying everything is perfect and I also think the Commission’s uncompromising approach to compliance and enforcement activity in recent years has helped get us to where we are today. The training and support for operators from many of you in this room has no doubt helped too. But we have definitely seen progress over the last year and that is something to be welcomed.

And the key thing about this progress is it allows us at the regulator to have a different tone with the industry we regulate and to look to move the conversation on. I have been clear since I started at the Commission that step one for gambling operators was compliance and eliminating the worst and most extreme cases of gambling harms. Progress on that, movement away from constantly needing to fight to enforce minimum standards and compliance will mean more space. Space to discuss what are actually more challenging issues. And that is where we have arrived today.

And that brings me back to GambleAware’s very well thought out theme for today. At the Gambling Commission we are always clear that we are open to working with others who share our aims of safer, fairer and crime free gambling. Where better outcomes for consumers and those at risk can be achieved through quick and smart collaboration we will always welcome that approach.

So when it comes to operators, we continue to support efforts to more widely rollout and extend the scope of the GamProtect scheme. GamProtect is already seeing those most at risk of very serious health-related harm through their gambling benefiting from a multi-operator approach across the biggest gambling companies, whilst all their personal data is protected. We have worked hard with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) to support this project, which is being developed with the team at GamStop, and we look forward to further updates on it in the coming months.

And of course, gambling is a global business, more so now than ever before, so with increasing success we are working with other gambling regulators around the world. Exchanging best practice and comparing notes on failings we are all seeing is of course of great value. But most importantly, we use this engagement to encourage those jurisdictions new to regulating online gambling to look at the standards we set here in Great Britain and to adopt them from day one in their own markets.

But we also see great value in collaboration with many of you here today and the organisations you represent. This is particularly important when we consider our ongoing efforts to improve the evidence, data and research that we have for gambling in Great Britain. Earlier this year we held a one-day Conference looking at questions around how we can improve the evidence that we have and I am pleased to say that many organisations that are here today took part in that. Since then we have continued the work that we discussed together. We have continued to publish updates on the Gambling Survey for Great Britain, including the Experimental data last month. More on that in a moment. Following the Conference though we also published our three year evidence gaps review – highlighting six priority areas where we want to work with others to improve the evidence base. We’ll be holding another one-day conference next March to maintain the progress on all this, specifically aimed at those evidence gaps we have identified and we’ll be sending out further information about that event in the near future.

But back to our new Participation and Prevalence data, that we are calling the Gambling Survey for Great Britain. Many of you will be aware that this work – to improve the data we collect on people’s gambling behaviours – has been running for about three years now. Whilst both the Health Surveys and our Quarterly Telephone Survey have their strengths, neither really satisfied our needs for current data, predictable in when it is available and that also had the level of detail and granularity required today. The Gambling Survey for Great Britain has been painstakingly developed to give us the level of detail we need with modernised questions, increased frequency and flexibility. It will also benefit from an increase in scale – with around 20,000 respondents each year when it is fully up and running. It will be the largest survey of its kind in the world.

So last month, the publication of the experimental data was a big step in what has been a key priority for several years. And yes, as part of that we published new data on gambling participation and on how many people score 8+ on the Problem Gambling Severity Index. This data is still experimental in nature and does not replace current official statistics. The new survey also uses a new and completely different methodology to what has gone before and therefore it should not be compared to data from previous surveys. The first official statistics we publish for the Gambling Survey for Great Britain next year will be a new baseline from which we will then be able to compare against in future years.

And between now and then we will continue to work on how we can make the methodology as good as it can be for full launch. We have commissioned Professor Patrick Sturgis, Professor of Quantitative Social Science at the London School of Economics, to undertake an independent review of our methodology and we’ll publish his findings and recommendations early next year.

From our perspective at the Commission, the key thing to know is that we are on the cusp of having better data from our official statistics. We have invested significant resources - money, people and time – and worked alongside experts in the field to develop the best consumer gambling survey that we can. And that better data will lead to better regulation and better outcomes for gambling – including operators, consumers and those at risk of suffering harms.

Improving the evidence base is also a key part of how – working with DCMS and others - we will be able to deliver on the Government’s White Paper.

It was, I am sure everyone here today agrees, a crucial moment earlier this year when the Government published their White Paper and I want to thank the Minister and DCMS for working so closely with my team both in the long months before publication and since. We published our own advice to Government on the same day and we were pleased to see so many of our recommendations picked up and made policy by Government.

Since then we have been committed to delivering on the White Paper’s promise as quickly as possible. We are making strides on improving the evidence base and we have published both a White Labels hub and content relating to our approach to vulnerability on our website. In October we closed our first round of Gambling Act Review consultations which attracted over 2400 complete responses and the work to analyse those responses is progressing well.

But at the end of last month we published our second round of Gambling Act Review consultations. As the regulator we are of course used to having a few critics so whilst we have heard some disappointment when we make clear that fully implementing the White Paper will be the work of the next few years, we have also heard a few groans at the pace we have set and the volume of consultations we have put out there already.

But we are committed to delivering at pace and this latest round of consultations underlines that. So what are we consulting on? Last week we published five consultation topics that look at:

  • socially responsible incentives – proposals relating to incentives such as free bets and bonuses, to make sure they do not encourage harmful or excessive gambling

  • customer-led tools – proposals to empower consumers and make it easier for them to manage their gambling in ways that work for them, such as deposit limits

  • transparency of protection of customer funds – proposals to increase transparency to consumers if their funds are held by licensees that offer no protection in the event of insolvency

  • removing Commission requirements that will become obsolete due to the government’s upcoming statutory levy – proposals to remove the current LCCP requirement to make annual financial contributions to a set list of research, prevention and treatment organisations

  • regulatory data – proposal to harmonise across operators the frequency of reporting of regulatory returns from annual to quarterly.

These consultations will close on 21 February 2024. We are also committed to getting consultations out on two further areas, not directly related to the Gambling Act Review, but where we see a need to improve areas of our ‘business as usual’ work. This consultation will include proposals relating to clarity and transparency to the way financial penalties are calculated, and financial key event reporting by licensees to ensure the Commission has the right information for risk-based regulation.

As we know, some policies that the Government has published, and that we - with DCMS - are working to consult on, can be contentious. I do not pretend that we would have received as many responses to our Summer consultations without the interest in Financial Risk Checks that came from those with an interest in horseracing. But we do encourage anyone and everyone with an interest to respond to our consultations. They can and do lead to changes in how we consider and implement policy. We are listening and as with so much that we want to achieve, we want to work together, with those who share our aims to get this work right.

That brings to an end what I wanted to say to you today. Sadly I do not think we have been given time for questions today but if you do have any please do get in touch.

Through our combined efforts, progress is being made. And with the White Paper now out, the next few years do represent a golden opportunity to make gambling safer, fairer and crime free. Working together we can, as GambleAware suggest today, turn the page to that new chapter. Thank you for your efforts and your time today.

Thank you.

Last updated: 12 December 2023

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