Annual report and Accounts 2019 to 2020
Making gambling fairer and safer
The work of the Gambling Commission in 2019-20 was deﬁned by the corporate strategy we published in 2018, and by the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms that we published in 2019.
Together, those two documents have proved to be invaluable in guiding our work, in achieving our licensing objectives, and helping our decision making. They have also supported our work in sending clear messages to the industry about the part we expect them to play in ensuring that all forms of gambling remain fair and safe, that we effectively regulate and license the National Lottery to maximise returns to good causes, and in building alliances with the healthcare sector and voluntary organisations to develop effective programmes to reduce gambling harms.
In 2019-20 the plans and priorities set out in these two documents have remained as valid as when they were ﬁrst written. The Commission’s overriding aim remains to secure greater involvement in the achievement of the objectives deﬁned in our strategies by the gambling industry, by those who are funding or delivering care and treatment, and by those whose lives have been affected by relatives or friends whose gambling became seriously harmful.
By securing greater support and involvement we hope to increase the pace of change and secure lasting and growing reductions in gambling harms, without depriving those, whose gambling is well-controlled, of the entertainment it can offer.
Overall, I believe we have achieved that aim.
The range and depth of our engagement with key stakeholders increased markedly over the last year.
Some key examples include the following.
We have held a variety of workshops with gambling operators of all sizes to engage them in developing the Annual Assurance Statements. These will now seek more information and stronger assurance on how conﬁdent Boards are that their policies on promoting fairness and combatting gambling harms are being followed.
We have worked to build good relationships with those with lived experience of the consequences of gambling addiction. Our aim is to ensure that this perspective inﬂuences every aspect of our regulatory work. The support provided by the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling and by the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland has been invaluable.
Before the work of the NHS was necessarily dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we were seeing real developments in research into the most effective treatment modalities for gambling addiction and in the creation of dedicated healthcare services. Developments have included: NHS-funded clinics in Leeds and Manchester, with plans for a further 12 in England; and studies by Public Health England and the National Institute for Health Research, and by Public Health Scotland.
Our regulatory regime was also strengthened in important ways including:
- the ban on using credit cards to fund gambling
- the requirement that all gambling operators should belong to Gamstop, to support self-exclusion
- raising standards by using our compliance and enforcement powers
- strengthened the requirements on operators to verify age and identity of gamblers before they can play.
The speed with which we can modify and strengthen our regulatory regime is perhaps the area where our progress has been less than the Board would have liked. It will be a focus for the future. But when we have to act quickly to protect customers, we can. When it became clear that some gamblers might be at greater risk of harm during the Covid-19 lockdown, we moved quickly to introduce stronger consumer protection measures, while we will continue to consult on wider changes taking into account evidence-based information. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly made our work more difficult, as it has for everyone. Its impact on most parts of the gambling industry has been severe.
Fortunately, there is no evidence that the lockdown has led to an increase in illegal gambling. As premises reopen and elite sports return, we will be monitoring carefully the impact on gamblers, and we expect gambling operators to do likewise and to take effective action to prevent harm to their customers.
One consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic was the Commission’s important decision to delay the launch of the 4th National Lottery licence competition by three months. Having consulted the market, it was clear these unique circumstances were having an impact on potential applicants’ ability to prepare for the competition. As a result of the delay, the market also requested a longer transition period, which has necessitated an extension of six months to the third National Lottery licence. This means that the launch will not take place before August and we will review the circumstances up until that point to ensure this is a fair, open and robust competition.
Looking forward, the agenda for the Commission over the next year will still be largely determined by our two strategy documents. Following the National Audit Office (NAO) report earlier this year, the Commission is addressing recommendations on suggestions where it can improve its operations and strengthen its regulation including on evaluating the impact of our work and continuing to develop a deeper understanding of the causes and impacts of gambling related harm. The report also recommended that the suitability of the current licence fee model should be reviewed. That work is underway and we look forward to the outcome of the fees review which will be undertaken by DCMS.
Since the last Government Gambling Review we have strengthened our own requirements in relation to funding arrangements for research, education and treatment by requiring voluntary donations to go to approved bodies.
We have also welcomed commitments from industry to increase their contributions. However, there is still a need for sustainable, predictable long-term funding.
Throughout the year ahead we will continue to be in discussions with partners in the delivery of the National Strategy to determine how this challenge can be met.
In closing, I want to pay tribute to all the hard work done by the Executive Team and everyone at the Commission over the past year. A lot has been achieved and we are well-placed to deliver even more in the year ahead.
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Last updated: 2 February 2021
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