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Regulating the Game Conference - Tim Miller speech

25 September 2023Speech by Tim Miller

This speech was delivered by executive director Tim Miller at the Regulating the Game Conference on 25 September 2023.

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

Hello everyone and thank you for that introduction. It’s great to be here with you all at the ‘Regulating the Game’ conference.

It’s a little over five months since the Government’s Gambling Act Review White Paper was published, and we are about two months on since we at the Commission and our sponsoring Department, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), launched our first set of consultations following the White Paper.

Whilst gambling regulation has always been evolving, the current Government Review is the first time the full Act has been open to review since 2005. It therefore is the best opportunity to make evidence-based changes to the way gambling is regulated in Great Britain since the Act was passed and an unmissable opportunity to make gambling safer, fairer and crime free.

So today I would like to talk to you about that opportunity. How is implementation going, what are we working on right now and where that might be contentious. What will be coming next and how those involved should prepare. I also want to touch on the deliverables that don’t rely on consultation and what we’re doing in that space. I also want to talk about what others are responsible for delivering and how we as the gambling regulator for Great Britain are supporting or scrutinising their work.

So, plenty of ground to cover, and of course I’ll be delighted to try and answer your questions at the end as well. But first, let’s just take a moment to reflect on how the market in Great Britain has developed and as a result why Government embarked on the Review.

I’m conscious that we have quite an international audience here today and you may not be totally familiar with the foundations and characteristics of the British gambling market. So let me do a quick British Gambling Market 101.

  • the British licensed online market is still the largest in the world, and one of the longest established. Online Gross Gambling Yield – or GGY – is already more than half of total GGY in Great Britain which is around £10 billion when you exclude lotteries
    • the growth in online was really kickstarted by Government reforms, that we had called for, that turned the British market into a ‘point of consumption’ jurisdiction, back in 2014. And that market has been growing ever since
  • the British market is also one of the more liberal regulated markets in the world, with very high levels of channelisation and therefore high levels of consumer choice
    • this approach – to permit gambling as long as it is in line with the licensing objectives – was a core point of the Gambling Act 2005 and alongside the point of consumption changes, is why we have the market that looks as it does today.

The 2005 Act of course also set up the Gambling Commission, including its powers and crucially it’s Licencing Objectives. I think it’s a sign of the continued relevance of those objectives that the White Paper left them untouched. So in case you don’t know them, they are:

  • preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime
  • ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way
  • protecting children and other vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling.

Or to put it another way, our core role is to permit gambling as long as it is safe, fair and crime free. And as is the case for best practice regulation for many products or areas of the economy, our regulation is largely based on an outcomes-focussed model.

This combination of a high value market, with room to offer and experiment with diverse products has driven competition and innovation. Especially when you factor in that participation rates are – even with Covid-19 impacts factored in – fairly stable in Great Britain, unavoidably further driving competition.

Now, the Gambling Act 2005 gives the Commission broad and fairly flexible powers in order to maintain the Licensing Objectives. We also have significant powers to modify and change the rules by which we regulate – the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) – as well as the guidance we offer as well. But the 2005 Act is almost 20 years old. Whilst the Commission has continually evolved both our approach and LCCP to respond to market innovation and industry poor practice, there are areas where either we didn’t have the powers to adapt or where action was reserved for Government. So when Government announced the Gambling Act Review in December 2020, the Commission supported it unequivocally and immediately got to work in our role as Statutory Advisor.

The White Paper as I’ve already said was published back in April and the Commission published its own Advice to Government at the same time and we were delighted the Government took so many of our recommendations onboard in the White Paper.

With the White Paper published, the Commission’s attention immediately turned quickly to implementing the recommendations. The White Paper has over 60 areas of work and at the Gambling Commission we are clear this will likely take a number of years to fully complete. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make rapid progress in a number of key areas and as many of you will already be aware of, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing over the Summer.

At the end of July we opened the first set of consultations, including those necessary to implement the White Paper:

  • age verification in premises
  • removing features which increase intensity of play on non-slots casino games online
  • cross-selling, specifically giving the consumer more power over what direct marketing they receive
  • financial risk and vulnerability checks.

These consultations are live now and we encourage everyone – whether gambling firm, consumer or any other interested organisation or individual – to have your say and give us your views. They are open until 18 October 2023 and whilst we’re delighted to have received over 1800 responses so far. We really do want as many as possible to inform the next steps.

Now it’s important to remember with these consultations, that whilst as always, we won’t pre-judge the outcome and the views and evidence expressed can and no doubt will lead to changes to our proposals, each one is based on a policy Government has already committed to. So, what I mean is we are not consulting on whether we should do something, but rather on how.

This is something of particular importance when we look at some of the commentary around Financial Risk Checks. Since the launch of our first set of consultations on the Government's Gambling Act Review White Paper, there's been some misunderstandings around the financial risk check proposals and what they really mean. Some of this is down to the complexity of the issues we are grappling with, some of it pointed to the need for additional communication; but some of it has been as a result of deliberate misinformation designed to cloud the debate or to torpedo the implementation of the Government’s policy. As a result, we took the decision earlier this month to publish a Q&A on our website to help clear up any misconceptions that people may have about the proposals.

And that includes covering the key points of what the Government and Gambling Commission's proposals are:

  • frictionless financial risk assessments are estimated to be needed for only 3 percent of gambling accounts. If no risk is identified a customer would continue with no further action
  • these checks would take place primarily via a credit reference agency, with no impact on credit score
  • nearly all gambling customers, and especially those who are likely to be high spenders, have a credit reference file which can be checked frictionlessly. However, in the very few cases where this can’t happen, a customer would be asked to consent to limited data sharing via a third-party open banking provider (estimated to impact 0.3 percent of accounts)
  • only where there is no credit file, and the customer chooses not to consent to sharing of data via open banking would they be asked to provide other evidence of financial circumstances to allow risk to be considered. This means that only an estimated 0.3 percent of account holders would ever be asked to provide information such as payslips or bank statements
  • and in addition, a light-touch financial vulnerability check, using publicly available data in order to check if a customer is for example bankrupt would be carried out on around 20 percent of accounts. And most of those checked will not be inconvenienced at all. We do not propose any blanket rules about what action must be taken following a check - financial risk information gathered through these checks is to be taken into account alongside any other indicators of harm that might be present.

Ultimately, I would urge anyone who is interested in this consultation, especially if you’ve been worried about what you may have heard, to actually read what we’ve published at the start of September and then share your views.

The consultations close on 18 October 2023 as I’ve said, but I can’t tell you how quickly we’ll be able to read and review all those responses and then pull together our own response on what comes next. We will continue to work at pace, but as we’ve said before since the White Paper was published, we are focussed on getting it right. More haste, less speed remains the aim.

And that’s important because as we are already moving forward to launch another batch of consultations in early Winter. Although not yet finalised, I can tell you that this tranche will contain important opportunities for people to have your say on proposals including:

  • Socially Responsible Incentives - ensuring that incentives like bonuses and free bets are constructed in a socially responsible manner that does not exacerbate the risk of harm
  • Gambling Management Tools - including whether it is appropriate to make online deposit limits mandatory or opt-out rather than opt-in.

And what’s more, there will be more of this to come in the New Year too.

This is a lot of work. We know that. And we know that pulling together substantive and constructive submissions for gambling operators as well as researchers and others takes time and resources. Especially whilst potentially working with the Commission on the results of the last round of consultations. But we think moving at this pace is achievable - and vitally - allows us to balance implementation of the White Paper recommendations with the needs of others whose views we want as part of those consultations.

But we’re clear, implementing the White Paper is not just about launching consultations. There is a great deal of other vital work that is being done without consultations but is still key to the delivery of the White Paper.

Even before we had published our first Gambling Act Review consultations in the Summer, we had already made progress towards those 60 plus deliverables and recommendations. We have already published a new online hub offering guidance on how operators should work with third parties including white label partners, and we have published a statement on vulnerability and gambling.

But there are other large pieces of work that the White Paper makes reference to, or that form parts of its recommendations that we’re also continuing to make progress on. One that I’ll come back to is the multi-operator data-sharing scheme, GamProtect. But a key area where the Commission will make a major contribution to White Paper implementation will be improving the data and improving the evidence base.

With a pilot conducted in full and published last year already, our new Participation and Prevalence survey, the Gambling Survey of Great Britain will launch early next year. When it’s fully rolled out it will be the largest survey of its type anywhere in the world, and will become the new gold standard for participation and prevalence data in Great Britain, with updated questions for the digital age and predictable, regular data for study. We’ve been testing and refining the methodology since we published the results of the pilot and have been updating the stakeholder groups who helped us design it – from operators, academics and lived experience – along the way.

Many of course are focused on what the new methodology will tell us about the Problem Gambling (PG) rate. This of course minimises the importance of all the other data we will be collecting and misses the critical point that due to the entirely new methodology, the PG rate will not be comparable to what has come before. The key point is that it will be better data. From a survey purpose-built for gambling, with more data from more respondents than ever before. Better data will give us a better picture of what gambling in Great Britain looks like today. And that in turn will allow us to drive better regulation.

The same applies to the evidence base and it was a big moment for the Commission when we published our three-year evidence gaps paper earlier this year. Building on the work at our Spring Conference the evidence gaps analysis highlights six key areas for us all to focus on. They are:

  • early gambling experiences and gateway products
  • the range and variability of gambling experiences
  • gambling-related harms and vulnerability
  • the impact of operator practices
  • product characteristics and risk
  • illegal gambling and crime.

For our part the Commission has highlighted where we will be focussing our efforts, and we hope researchers and others will engage with this important piece of work in making their own plans and proposals.

So, these are just two of the important, large-scale pieces of work that the Commission is leading on to help support the implementation of the White Paper. But we aren’t just supporting implementation through our own work. We’re actively supporting others too.

When we launched our consultations in Summer, DCMS were doing the same, with two consultations published:

  • ‘A maximum stake limit for online slots games in Great Britain’
  • ‘Measures relating to the land-based gambling sector’

Both consultations are open until 4 October 2023.

As we did throughout the work leading up to the White Paper, we continue to work closely with our sponsoring Department on the delivery of the White Paper both on these consultations and other recommendations where DCMS are taking the lead, such as the Statutory Levy.

But it’s important to remember that the gambling industry themselves are also responsible for the delivery of many key parts of the White Paper and we will be working with them, both providing support but also scrutiny to make sure they deliver what is expected. For example, the GamProtect project that has grown out of the Commission’s industry challenge to deliver a holistic view of risk of harm, known as Single Customer View, is one such initiative. We have worked with the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) as they set up a pilot, setting the parameters for what it needs to deliver and working with the Information Commissioner’s Office to make sure that it was legal, data would be secure and only used to protect people from harm. We’re now expecting a further update on the progress of this project before it is expanded to cover more operators and more consumers as a result.

Another major recommendation that industry are leading on is the setting up of an Ombudsman. We recommended to Government that an Ombudsman should be set up on a statutory basis, but we understand why Government is looking at the potential to quickly introduce one via voluntary industry measures and recognise that this is a pragmatic way of delivering consumer benefits sooner. We look forward to seeing what the BGC propose in this space and we, alongside the Ombudsman Association, will be providing DCMS with our analysis of any proposals. However we are clear, that if what is proposed by industry does not meet the accepted standard for an Ombudsman we will not be able to support it through changes to LCCP. In short, we will not hardwire into our rule book a model of redress that is compromised and does not deliver for the consumer.

As always though, the Commission will look to collaborate with partners to make faster progress in making gambling safer, fairer and crime free.

I started today stating that the Gambling Act Review is perhaps the best opportunity to make evidence-based changes to the way gambling is regulated in Great Britain since the 2005 Act was passed. That it is an unmissable opportunity to make gambling safer, fairer and crime free. So now is the time to push on and make sure that over the next couple of years we make the most of it.

Thank you.

Last updated: 25 September 2023

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