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Keynote Speech - Money and Mental Health Policy Institute conference

13 October 2020

Making Gambling Safer and Reducing Harm: How the Financial Sector can help.

Hello. I am Neil McArthur and I am the Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission.

At the Gambling Commission we are determined to use all the tools at our disposal to make gambling safer. We have deliberately set out disrupt old ways of thinking to raise standards for consumers. There are some who question the Commission’s approach but complex issues – and gambling related harm is a complex issue – require a wide range of perspectives and participants to solve them. There are no silver bullets here. It’s easy to come up with great soundbites – but real change takes hard work, collaboration and innovation in lots of different areas.

If we are to achieve a lasting reduction in gambling related harm, there must be a multi-sector partnership approach. The financial sector has a vitally important role to play, for reasons I will explain. That is why I am so pleased to be able to speak to you today, because I need your help – and, more importantly, there are vulnerable people who need your help.

Money and Mental Health Policy Institute in the National Strategy

This Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) project ‘Engaging financial services firms in work to reduce gambling harms’ is funded from a penalty package that followed an enforcement case. This is important work, which forms part of a range of actions that many partners are taking as part of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms that the Commission launched last year.

The publication of the Strategy and the use of penalty packages to fund vitally important work are just two examples of things we have done to disrupt old ways of thinking, which I referred to earlier. A third example is the establishment of an interim ‘Experts by Experience’ group. Colleagues on that group have direct, tragic personal experience of the harm gambling can cause and I don’t pretend, for a minute, that I can put myself in their shoes. But I do share their passion to make things better and I know that their experiences and insights can accelerate the progress we are making.

I therefore welcome MMHPI’s inclusion of ‘Experts by Experience’ throughout today’s Conference, but at this point I would like to take this opportunity to play you a video of someone who shared their story with us.

At this point in his speech, Neil shared a video with delegates of a former problem gambler.

What is the scale of the problem?

I have previously showed that video to a conference hall filled with the most senior executives of British gambling operators. It is difficult to watch and hear and I am pleased to say that the man in the video got the help he needed and is recovering.

But what haunts me and drives me and my colleagues to do better and go faster is the fact that we estimate there are 340,000 people in Great Britain who are Problem Gamblers. That is far too high and whilst problem gambling rates are not increasing, they aren’t yet decreasing and that is what we want to see: a drastic reduction in the number of people being harmed by gambling.

The National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms

The National Strategy provides a framework for planning and intervention by partners in health and the third sector, as well as gambling operators and the Commission itself.

It is not ‘the Gambling Commission’s Strategy’. In fact, most of the elements of the strategy require action by others – for example: research programmes to broaden understanding of the problem and how best to tackle it, the development of appropriate clinical interventions throughout the country and education to prevent harm occurring.

And this is why MMHPI’s project and action from the Financial sector is so important, because as I said at the outset, harnessing diverse perspectives and expertise leads to better solutions.

Different perspectives lead to better solutions

It has always been obvious to me that no one person or group has all the answers. Solving complex problems needs collaboration between people with a diverse range of backgrounds, specialisms and opinions. This can be uncomfortable at times, as it can lead to disagreement and conflict, but constructive disagreement and constructive conflict often leads to a deeper understanding of a problem and better solutions.

As the national regulator of gambling, the Commission has an important role to play and significant powers, which we are ready and willing to use. For example, we banned gambling with credit cards as the evidence showed that preventing consumers from gambling on credit cards would reduce the risk of harm. That was an important step, but there are other steps that can be taken by other partners that will help the overall system protect vulnerable consumers better.

That is why we are so pleased to see an increasing number of banks looking at how they can protect vulnerable consumers from gambling related harm. For example, we have seen a number of banks offering gambling blocks to their customers to help them control their finances and avoid harm. We welcome that and we would like to work with partners in the financial sector to find other innovative ways to reduce gambling harm.

Another example of how Open Banking and the Finance Sector’s experience of it could help us accelerate progress is what we are calling our ‘Single Customer View’ project. That is a project the Commission is running, with support of the The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) (opens in new tab). In which, we have challenged gambling operators and technology providers to work together to find a way of producing a holistic view of a customer’s gambling. That would be a massive step forward.

Think back to the video I showed a few moments ago. If each individual operator has known that the customer was vulnerable the opportunity to protect him would have kicked in sooner. That is what the Single Customer View project is about. And think how much more powerful the system would be if it linked to financial services – because, to an extent, financial services providers already have a single view of their customers financial transactions.

The evidence we have from Experts by Experience suggests that opportunities to protect people are being missed because their financial transactions show spending with gambling operators that is not questioned. That is why today’s conference is so important.

Reducing gambling related harm needs everyone to play their part to protect vulnerable consumers. As I said at the beginning, I need your help and, much, much more importantly, there are vulnerable people who need your help and, if we work together, I know we can help them.

How do we assess the risk of harm?

Earlier I said that there are around 340,000 Problem Gamblers in Great Britain today but that in itself does not tell the story of the of risk of harm. To understand the risks, we need to drill into the numbers more, which is what I would like to do in the next few slides.

For example, what if we look at the world as 100 people?

First, the general population. We see 3 people are at low risk of harm, 1 at moderate risk and half a person is a problem gambler. But this picture is misleading: 53 of our 100 people don’t gamble at all.

What if the world were 100 gamblers?

We see 4 and a half are at low risk, 2 moderate risk and 1 person is a problem gambler.

What about highly engaged gamblers?

But we can go further. What about people who are highly engaged with gambling and who have recently gambled in multiple ways? 14 are now at low risk and 9 are at moderate risk of harm. Sadly, 6 of the 100 people in this world are problem gamblers.

And finally, highly engaged gamblers often find themselves playing high intensity products like online slots. If the world were 100 online slots players, 11 of the 100 people say they lose more than they can afford either most of the time or almost always.

Next steps

We are still awaiting details of what the Government’s Gambling Act Review will look like and we will, of course, support the Government with our data, experience and expertise.

But we will not wait for the Review’s outcome to make progress. We will shortly be launching a consultation on customer interaction and how gambling operators should use affordability to keep their customers safer.

At the end of October, we are also introducing strict new guidance for High Value Customers or VIPs and once again affordability and really knowing the customer are key elements. We are already working with the Financial Conduct Authority (opens in new tab) to see how we can build on the work they are doing on financial vulnerability.

I want to conclude by saying thank you for joining today’s conference. Thank you to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute for working with us to help make gambling safer.

And finally, if you only take away one thought from what I have said, let it be this: what are the top 3 opportunities that financial services providers have to protect vulnerable consumers and how can we work together to take those opportunities?

Thank you.

Last updated: 18 January 2023

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