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Annual report and Accounts 2019 to 2020

Making gambling fairer and safer

  1. Contents
  2. Performance analysis
  3. Chief Executive and Accounting Officer's message

Chief Executive and Accounting Officer's message

Our goal is to make gambling safer. This report sets out the progress we have made and the challenges we have faced over the last year.

The end of 2019-20 coincided with the COVID-19 crisis, which has had a devastating impact on people all around the world, including in Great Britain. In the gambling industry, social distancing measures meant that all land-based operators had to close, with the associated financial and operational challenges that posed. Online betting was also severely affected by the shut-down of live sport.

In contrast, online gaming saw an increase in participation. As a result, we introduced new measures to strengthen player protection. Protecting consumers from harm has been a high priority for the Commission over the last 12 months and it will continue to be a priority in the year ahead as we all adjust to life after a period of unprecedented disruption and personal loss.

Changes in the gambling market

We know that 24.7 million people in Great Britain gamble, which represents a reduction in overall participation levels. The way consumers gamble has changed, with an increase in online gambling participation and a continued rise in gambling on mobile phones.

Alongside a reduction in overall participation levels, Gross Gambling Yield has also reduced to £14.3 billion, with 2,652 operators now in the market. We have also seen further consolidation of the GB gambling market and an increasingly global outlook from the largest operators as they look for opportunities in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

The last 12 months has seen an increase in online gambling. 11 million people now gamble online2

An estimated 5.5 million people now gamble through their mobile phone – an increase of approximately 1.2 million from the previous year – while usage of PCs, laptops and tablets to gamble has declined3.

Players are also increasingly playing online slots and higher intensity products such as in-play betting4.

The number of licensed gambling premises has fallen to 9,7452 which mainly accounts for the reduction in betting shops. The number of machines in premises has increased from 179,766 to 185,203.

This has been driven, in part, by an expansion in the number of machines in arcades and bingo halls.

The action we have taken

As part of our strategy to make online gambling safer and to address new issues, over the last 12 months we have:

  • toughened age verification processes to protect children by preventing underage play
  • strengthened customer identity verification procedures operators must use
  • improved operators’ interaction with customers who are at risk of or experiencing harm
  • announced a ban on gambling with credit cards, which came into force on 14 April, and;
  • made it mandatory for participation in the Gamstop online self-exclusion scheme.

Delivery of our Business Plan

Preventing harm to consumers and the public

We have been working hard to reduce the risk of gambling related harm. There are some early signs that our strategy is starting to have a positive impact, but it is too soon to draw firm conclusions and there is no room for complacency. Consumer trust in gambling has continued to decline – currently standing at 29% in comparison to 30% in 20185 and we do not expect to see that to change until we see significant reductions in gambling related harm.

Our collaborative work with operators has also accelerated. I have spent time meeting senior leaders from across the industry, both from operators and from trade bodies. I know from those meetings that they want to work with us to make gambling safer. The creation of the Betting and Gaming Council has been a welcome development and they are making strong public commitments and supporting collaboration across the industry to make quicker progress in protecting consumers.

We also set three high profile challenges to operators which are designed to protect vulnerable people. These working groups continue to address poor practice around VIP customers, focus on safer products and game design, and how advertising technology can be used to prevent harm. The idea of these challenges was not universally applauded when they were launched but we continue to control the process and set the agenda.

Raising standards in the gambling industry

Over the past year we undertook nearly 700 assessments as part of our proactive compliance work.

Our approach to anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing was endorsed at the highest level with the publication of the Financial Action Task Force’s Mutual Evaluation Report of the UK.

The Commission has worked with operators across the gambling industry and other statutory authorities since then to ensure that any improvements recommended have been implemented and standards raised, both domestically and internationally.

Our enforcement work has continued to increase in complexity. We have continued to hold operators to account for significant failings, which mainly centred around anti-money laundering, social responsibility controls and customer interaction issues. In total, we carried out almost 130 regulatory and criminal investigations into operators and senior managers and over the past year we have suspended five operators’ licences and revoked 11 licences. We have also imposed a range of other sanctions, including significant financial penalty packages and regulatory settlements for failings. As the operators we license and regulate are increasingly operating in a global market we have spent more time sharing our learnings and intelligence with international regulators to work together to make gambling crime free and safe.

Improving how we regulate

The way we regulate has continued to evolve and this year we have improved our digital services for licensees. Listening to the needs of personal licence holders, this year we launched a more streamlined service where people can now manage their personal licences online and through their mobile phone. We will be looking at similar initiatives in the year ahead while also ensuring that all our digital services are accessibility compliant.

Optimising returns to good causes from lotteries

The National Lottery is one of Great Britain’s most recognised brands and amongst the largest lotteries in the world. It makes a significant contribution to our society, transforms lives and contributes to sports, arts, heritage and community projects. The National Lottery has so far raised a staggering £42 billion for good causes, generating £1.79 billion in 2019-20 alone.

The National Lottery’s 25th birthday last year was marked with a high-profile campaign and series of events which told the story of its incredible success. We were delighted to be part of those celebrations alongside the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), distributor bodies and the operator.

The project to award the next licence to run the National Lottery has been a major priority over the last 12 months, as it will be in the future. We are determined to run a fair and open competition and ensure a level playing field for those who choose to enter the process.


I am entering my third year as the Commission’s Chief Executive. It is a privilege to work with colleagues who are so passionately committed to making gambling safer for consumers and

I am grateful to all my colleagues, including the Chair, our Commissioners and our Advisory Boards, for the support they give.

We are constantly working to stay on top of emerging issues and risks to make sure we are focussing our work in the right areas. While progress has been made this year to make gambling safer, we are all clear that there is much more to do.

Neil McArthur Chief Executive and Accounting Officer


2Gambling participation in 2019: behaviour, awareness and attitudes – (February 2020).

3Page 17 – Graph D

4Page 16 – Graph B

5Page 17 – Graph C

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Overview of the gambling sector
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