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Guidance: Gambling Commission issues reminder of expectations to licensees leaving the market

03 October 2019

From time to time, operators leave the British gambling market.

Closing a Gambling Commission Licensed Gambling Business

What you need to do

The Gambling Commission is aware that businesses have been taking a variety of approaches to dealing with their customers in these situations, and we want to make our expectations clear.

One of the principles of our regulation is that gambling businesses should be fair and open with customers, and this applies as much to operators who have decided to leave the British market, as it does to those who continue to hold a licence.

We expect all gambling businesses to have plans in place, and to take all necessary steps, to make sure that consumers are not unnecessarily disadvantaged if they close.

While there are several reasons for a business to close, these principles apply to all. When a gambling business closes the Commission expects that the following principles will be observed:

  • clear information is provided to customers
  • communication should include all available means, including direct contact with consumers, notices on the outside of premises (where applicable) and wider messages on social media
  • customers with a complaint are given information on the means of who to contact and that access to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service is maintained.
  • the business attempts to meet all its liabilities, wherever possible, including honouring bets due to be settled after closure.

Administration and insolvency

There is a difference between your business becoming insolvent and going into administration. If your business is placed into administration, it is still possible that the business could be saved. However, you must submit a key event, providing details who has been appointed as the Administrator. If however your business is placed into liquidation, your licence will lapse; again a key event will need to be submitted to the Commission.

If your business is unable to pay its debts as they fall due (regardless of whether these are withdrawal requests from customers or ongoing liabilities such as tax payment to HM Revenue & Customs (opens in new tab), then your business is insolvent and immediate advice should be taken from a licensed insolvency practitioner on your responsibilities and whether it is appropriate for you to continue trading.

Surrendering your licence

Please note that, the closure of the business and the surrender of your licence will not necessarily occur on the same date. The date of surrender is for the Licensee to decide, but we would want assurances that bets have been settled and customers communicated with, before we action the surrender.

Even after the closure of the business you should provide customers with a means of contacting you in the event of unclaimed funds or a complaint. Please do not advise customers to contact the Commission in the event of a complaint, as we do not deal with individual customer complaints. If you are unable to resolve a complaint you must advise customers of the ADR process or that disputes can be settled by the courts.

Your licence will be surrendered on that date agreed with your Account Manager, who will confirm when the licence has been surrendered. The Public Register will be updated within 24 hours to show that you no longer hold a licence with the Commission.

Advice specific to land-based gambling businesses

This advice applies to land-based gambling businesses with premises in GB, such as bookmakers, arcades, bingo halls and casinos.

If you have decided to close your business for reasons other than insolvency, you should contact your named account manager at the Commission, in advance, with details of your plan for an orderly closure. The plan should cover the following:

  • the reason for the closure – retirement, etc
  • the proposed date of closure
  • the proposed date for the surrender of the licence
  • how you will communicate the decision to customers
  • how you will settle bets or liabilities to customers, determined after closure (where applicable).

If you have accepted bets that will not be settled until after the closure of the business, you must have a clear policy on how these bets will be handled. Wherever possible, these bets should be honoured, but if a decision is made to void these bets this must be clearly communicated to customers and the policy must be universally applied

The Commission will not approve any plans that you make, however your Account Manager will advise you of any action that you need to take, such as completing outstanding regulatory returns and keeping the Commission informed of your progress in being able to pay out on settled bets.

Advice to online (remote) gambling businesses

This advice applies to online gambling businesses who do not have premises in GB but offer services to GB based customers through a website or app.

If you have decided to close your business for reasons other than insolvency, you should contact your named account manager at the Commission, in advance, with your plan for an orderly closure. The plan should cover the following:

  • the reason for the closure – retirement, leaving the GB market etc
  • the proposed date of closure
  • the proposed date for the surrender of the licence
  • how you will communicate the decision to customers
  • how you will settle bets that are determined after closure (where applicable)
  • when you will stop accepting new registrations
  • how many active customers you have
  • the amount of customer funds you hold
  • a breakdown of your ante-post liabilities, based on your proposed closure date
  • how you will return customer funds, even after the website is no longer active
  • what you will do with funds that you are unable to return to customers
  • if you intend to continue to operate in other jurisdictions, how you will ensure that GB based customers cannot create accounts with you.

Players must be given reasonable notice of your decision to close the website. It would not be acceptable to send emails to customers and then close the website two days later. The Commission does not want to be prescriptive, as circumstances will differ, but we consider that two weeks is the minimum time between informing customers and closing the website, and that four weeks would be preferable.

If you have accepted bets that will not be settled until after the closure of the business, you must have a clear policy on how these bets will be handled. Wherever possible, these bets should be honoured, but if a decision is made to void these bets this must be clearly communicated to customers and the policy must be universally applied.

Every attempt must be made to return customer funds, including to inactive customers. This may require the setting up a specific web page that customers can access after the closure of the main website in order to request refunds. We consider that four weeks after closure to be sufficient time to provide customer with access. You should consider what you will do with funds that are not claimed after this date and make you customers aware of what will happen.

Can I close my gambling business but retain my operating licence?

The Commission’s Statement of principles for licensing and regulation (June 2017) states:

“The Commission will not issue licences to people who do not need them. If a licence is issued but an operator or individual does not provide facilities for gambling in reliance on that licence within a reasonable period, the Commission may commence a licence review with a view to revoking the licence if that appears necessary. Therefore, operators must satisfy the Commission that they have a genuine need to hold a licence”.

The above paragraph refers specifically to applications for a licence, but it applies equally to existing operators. The Commission will not allow operators to retain a licence if they do not need to hold one. If you cease to trade, there is an expectation that you will surrender the operating licence.

If you want to close the gambling business for a period of time but begin trading again at a later date, you would be expected to demonstrate that there is a clear plan to use the licence within a reasonable period of time i.e. 12 months. If the Commission agrees that you can retain the licence, but you fail to begin trading again within a year, we will begin a review of the licence, which could result in its revocation.

Can I retain my personal management licence (PML) if the operating licence I am linked to has been surrendered?

A PML belongs to the individual named on the licence, not to the company that the individual is employed by. If the business operating licence is surrendered, the individual’s PML remain active until such time as it is surrendered or revoked.

However, the Commission does not expect PML holders to retain a licence if they do not need it. If the PML holder has no intention of seeking further employment in the gambling industry, in a position that requires a PML, the licence should be surrendered.

If the PML holder decides to retain their licence, they remain subject to the licence conditions and codes of practice attached to personal management licences. They must keep the Commission aware of any changes to their contact details and inform the Commission of any key events e.g. criminal convictions, bankruptcy etc.

A PML does not expire but the holder must take steps to maintain their licence every five years from the date of issue. If the PML holder fails to complete the maintenance process or to pay the maintenance fee, the Commission will revoke the licence.

Can I re-instate an operating/personal licence once it has been surrendered?

No, once a licence has been surrendered the only option is to make a new application for a licence. There is no shortcut that would allow a recently surrendered licence to be re-instated.


Last updated: 18 August 2021

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