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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. Archived: Report represents information and guidance valid at the time of publication.

  1. Contents
  2. 6 - Illegal gambling

6 - Illegal gambling

Part of our statutory remit and a key licensing objective is to keep crime out of gambling. We are particularly focused on identifying and disrupting those illegal websites which are targeted at the young and vulnerable gamblers and which often provide little, or no, customer protection. When consumers access illegal gambling sites, they expose themselves to many risks and are not afforded the protections in place in the regulated sector.

We assess intelligence gathered from multiple sources and work closely with partner agencies to prevent access to illegal websites by GB consumers. If an intelligence-led approach is unsuccessful, cases are referred to the Enforcement team for investigation and focused disruption. This approach ensures that our focus is on those websites presenting the greatest consumer threat. Our focus has been on investigating Section 33 Gambling Act offences – making available unlicensed gambling facilities, and Section 330 Gambling Act offences – unlicensed advertising of such facilities. Our investigations have shown:

  • Consumers identified as users of the websites have in the main been vulnerable with some having previously self-excluded via GamStop
  • Consumers often contact the Commission because they have been unable to withdraw funds.
  • When consumers have complaints with unlicensed operators these are often not dealt with, and consumers have no right to appeal.
  • The protection of consumers’ personal information cannot be relied upon.
  • Such websites may be linked to organised criminality.

We continue to have a staged approach and when we become aware of suspected individuals or companies who may be offering unlicensed gambling facilities to GB consumers our initial action is to issue cease and desist demands. Where this is not adhered to and GB consumers remain at risk, we use disruption techniques where appropriate. Our methods have included utilising our relationships with web hosting companies to bring down websites, payment providers to remove payment services and social media sites to prevent websites appearing on search engines or being hosted. All of these methods ensure that we continue to react proportionately and appropriately to the illegal provision of gambling facilities and prevent unlicensed operators interacting with GB consumers.

Enforcement have tackled 59 instances of remote unlicensed operators this year and engaged with 15 international regulators. We will continue to put out messages on our media feeds and website to ensure consumers know the risks of using such sites.

We urge licensed entities to remain vigilant as to the risk of these illegal sites using their software without authorisation and to report any such instances to us immediately.

We continue to investigate allegations of cheating under s.42 of the Gambling Act where appropriate and work together with sports governing bodies and betting operators in tackling this type of crime. In this year two possible criminal investigations were considered for action.

We continue to support/have provided support to police forces within the United Kingdom with their criminal investigations and provide advice through NPCC stakeholder engagement.

Illegal lotteries on social media

Social media lotteries are a growing issue due to their increasing presence on Facebook and other sites. Historically such lotteries were low-level events, and intelligence identified many were being run from home by a small group of people and for low value prizes. However recent intelligence suggests larger, more organised operations may be in effect, generating significant profit for the individuals ultimately controlling these. From May 2019 to May 2020, 245 illegal lotteries were referred by us to Facebook for closure.

The protection of vulnerable consumers is a core licensing objective and continues to be an enforcement priority. The Commission will take strong and proportionate action when unlicensed websites or illegal lotteries are seen to be targeting vulnerable consumers who are most at risk of experiencing gambling harm.

Case study

The Commission became aware of unlicensed websites being promoted to gamblers who had self-excluded from GAMSTOP. Since 1 April 2020, licensed operators are required to adhere to social responsibility code provision 3.5.5 – which requires that all online operators are fully integrated with GAMSTOP. This ensures that vulnerable consumers are able to self-exclude from all online gambling products.

Those advertising these unlicensed websites may have been committing a criminal offence under Section 330 Gambling Act offences (unlicensed advertising of such facilities).

Once the Commission became aware of these websites, we utilised our criminal powers to investigate and disrupt these websites through liaising with website hosting services, search engines, social media, payment service providers and licensed software providers of popular casino games. This was a cynical, targeted effort to attract those most at harm and demonstrates the very real risks individuals can be exposed to should they choose to gamble with an unlicensed operator.

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