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Raising Standards for consumers - Compliance and Enforcement report 2019 to 2020

The Gambling Commission's report on Compliance and Enforcement action 2019 to 2020

  1. Contents
  2. 3 - Customer Interaction and Social Responsibility failings

3 - Customer Interaction and Social Responsibility failings

The Gambling Commission exists to safeguard consumers and the wider public by ensuring that gambling is fair and safe.

We are committed to making gambling safer and we do this by placing consumers at the heart of regulation and maintaining the integrity of the gambling industry. Safer gambling (also known as Social Responsibility) is all about protecting people from gambling-related harm.

The Compliance team measures operators against the Social Responsibility code provisions by undertaking operator assessments, reviewing operator commitments such as Assurance Statements or by way of thematic work. Typically, the areas where operators fall down are:

  • Safer gambling policies have not been reviewed to consider new guidance and/or have never been tested for effectiveness.
  • Operators do not follow their own policies and procedures and there is a lack of rigorous senior management oversight.
  • Triggers are not appropriate, are ineffective, or occur one time only, and sometimes it is a combination of all three factors.
  • Interaction impacts are not reviewed, measured, or acted upon. We still see instances where customer calls are scripted or based around closed questions.
  • Staff accept customer responses at face value without considering other information available such as affordability based on their specific circumstances.
  • Interactions are not carried out due to historic interaction records which may not be reflective of current circumstances.

We have set out clear expectations for operators in relation to safer gambling. We expect operators to actively work and accelerate cooperation with each other to prevent, mitigate and minimise harm, collaborating to accelerate progress and evidence impact. We want a focus on ‘what works’ and we expect operators to empower and protect consumers.

This area of regulatory oversight is broad and includes proper identification and engagement with those who may be at risk of or experiencing harms; ensuring terms and conditions are clear, fair and straightforward; ensuring they do not target people who may be vulnerable and properly supporting self-excluded customers.

Over the past year, we have continued to take action where operators are not doing enough to identify and engage with customers who may be at risk. We have continued to see incidences of customers who were experiencing significant problems with their gambling being upgraded to ‘VIP’ status, with operators missing the clear signs of harm as they focus on profit. We have also experienced repeated examples of customers being allowed to gamble significant sums of money in short time frames, way beyond their personal affordability, without any operator intervention. These problems can be particularly acute over weekends and during the night.

We will continue to take a firm regulatory enforcement approach whilst also further improving gambling harms research and evaluation so there is widespread adoption of what works.

Operators are encouraged to reflect on their performance in this area, and in particular to consider whether they can evidence the following:

  • They have effective safer gambling policies and procedures in place which are tested and periodically reviewed and updated to reflect impact assessments and new research.
  • They check to make sure the policies and procedures are truly implemented in the business and are being acted upon.
  • Appropriate safer gambling triggers are in place that lead to meaningful customer interactions. Those interactions should be regularly reviewed by management to critically assess their impact on customers and overall effectiveness.
  • There should be effective challenge and oversight by senior management with clear accountability throughout the organisation.
  • That the teams responsible for conducting Social Responsibly interactions are adequately resourced so that at-risk customers are not missed or identified too late.

Enforcement cases:

We have taken regulatory action against several licensees who failed to meet customer interaction requirements to identify and appropriately progress customers who are or may be problem gamblers. Notable cases included:

Case studies

During one compliance assessment of an online casino operator, which led to a licence review, officials found:

  • Despite the existence of triggers based on loss and length of play, a customer lost £53,000 in 12 weeks following registration of their account.
  • In one gaming session lasting over 7 hours, their losses amounted to £16,500 and the only interaction during this time was to ask the consumer to confirm a new card to make payment was theirs. In a subsequent session also lasting more than 7 hours, no interactions were made with the customer that day.
  • During the 12-week customer relationship, the only safer gambling interaction was a brief three question email to which the customer responded ‘I am fine, please don’t deactivate my account’. This was not followed up or challenged
  • The customer finally self-excluded.

Action was taken against one online bingo operator when it was discovered:

  • One customer had generated 56 automated ‘pop-up’ safer gambling messages and 13 in-play messages whilst still being able to continue without restrictions or there being more meaningful interactions.
  • Despite the customer displaying concerning behaviour linked to speed of losses and length of play, automated bonuses were placed into their account.
  • The operator could not evidence that it had monitored either the effectiveness of its safer gambling messaging, nor the specific customer interactions.

Other online operator failings which resulted in Commission action include:

  • A failure to carry out social responsibility interactions with a customer who lost £98,000 over two-and-a-half years, had 460 attempted deposits into their account declined, and asked the operator to stop sending them promotions.
  • Allowing a customer to spend £1.5m over 34 months without being able to provide evidence of any social responsibility interactions being carried out. The customer displayed signs of problem gambling including logging into their account an average of 10 times a day for a month.
  • Not being able to provide any evidence of carrying out social responsibility interactions with a customer who deposited over £140,000 in the first 4 months of their account being open.
  • An operator identifying concerns with a customer, who was then allowed to gamble significantly without additional steps being taken to verify the affordability of the losses.
  • A repeated self-excluded customer being permitted to lose £50,000 in 1 day
  • A customer with 11 accounts being permitted to deposit more than £494,000 in 17 months, with £300,000 of this being deposited in just 5 months. No evidence of social responsibility interactions could be provided by the operator.

Areas for improvement are not limited to online operators. In one assessment on a land-based casino we found:

  • A customer who was known to have previously self-excluded losing £240,000 in 13 months.
  • A customer displaying signs of problem gambling, including 30 sessions lasting more than five hours, losing £323,000 in 12 months.
  • Ineffective interactions with customers displaying indicators of potential problem gambling including violent outbursts, threats to staff and damage to property.
  • Customers simultaneously seeking return of winnings to their personal bank accounts to prevent further play, whilst seeking to increase the maximum they could deposit by cheque.

Customer Interaction and Social Responsibility failings - good practice

You should be asking yourself the following key questions with regards to customer interaction and identifying problem gamblers:

  • Do you have policies and procedures in place to identify customers who may be experiencing or at risk of developing problems with their gambling? Have you allocated sufficient resources to be able to interact with customers early and effectively when you have concerns?
  • Are you curious about your customers? Do you monitor customer activity? Do you record interactions and use this information to aid your decision making about customers?
  • Do you track customers across your different platforms and do enough to spot multiple customer accounts?
  • Do you have systems in place to identify potential problem gamblers? Do these include appropriate and realistic trigger points linked to individual affordability considerations for when the usual pattern of gambling becomes unusual (these should not be just financial)? How do you protect new or unknown customers (where a pattern of play cannot yet be established)?
  • Will your processes keep pace with increased demand? Will your growth or any merger affect your ability to monitor customers?
  • How are you evaluating these measures and procedures to ensure they are effective and how do you plan to make improvements over time?
  • Are your staff sufficiently trained to spot gamblers who might be experiencing harm and know how to report concerns? Are there clear procedures once a concern has been raised? Are there processes in place for weekends and late nights?
  • Where concerns arise, are you able to intervene early and engage with a customer?
  • Do your customer interaction policies and procedures also cover VIP customers? Are you alert to the particular risk these customers may face? Are commercial considerations overriding customer protections? Are you answering these questions before offering VIP status to ensure you are minimising harm from the outset of the VIP/high spend relationship?
  • Have you considered how you will meet the revised LCCP requirements for customer interaction? Have you reviewed your own processes against the guidance, and considered changes you need to make to meet the requirements from October 2019?
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Triggers and customer affordability
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Anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing
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