Neil McArthur – Industry cannot disconnect from its consumer responsibilities

Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), has challenged UK betting leadership to improve all-round consumer protections in 2020 or face further regulatory consequences.

McArthur addressed an audience of industry leaders and wider stakeholders at yesterday’s ‘CMS Gambling Conference in London, in which he underlined the UKGC’s obligation of protecting consumers first and foremost.

A stern McArthur opened his address stating that ‘consumer confidence in the industry has been in decline for years, you may think it’s the Commission’s fault but you are wrong’.

The UKGC’s leader stressed that gambling executives could no longer neglect gambling addiction and harms as ‘simply a fact of life, that cannot be changed’.

“If you think you cannot reduce the number of people experiencing gambling harms, you are wrong; and I am going to explain why you need to find another job if you are operating in Great Britain or advising operators” McArthur stated opening his address.

McArthur warned industry leadership, that it cannot afford to disconnect on the consequences and harms of problem gambling, in which the Commission’s workforce has witnessed the ‘livid experiences’ of addicts and families devasted by gambling.

For 2020, McArthur states that the UKGC anticipates for the UK government to instruct it to undertake a review of the 2005 Gambling Act, of which the scope is yet to be clarified. However, McArthur underlined that the Commission’s focus would remain on protecting consumers and improving industry standards related to game design, customer incentivisation, advertising and its all-round conduct.

“Consumers have always been at the heart of our approach to regulation and they always will be.  We don’t suggest that we know better than they do, we bring them into our work and we want to do that more and more in the future” McArthur said.

Of utmost concern, McArthur would highlight the loss of consumer confidence in gambling, revealing that in ‘2008 49% of the population agreed gambling was fair and could be trusted, by 2018 that number had shrunk to 30%.’

McArthur detailed that consumer confidence in UK gambling had declined whilst the sector had seen its gross gambling yield increase to £14.4 billion, yet UK participation in gambling is reported to have declined to 46% in 2018 (vs 57% in 2012).

For the UKGC the GGY increase and falling participation rates indicate that ‘more money is being taken from fewer consumers, playing online and on mobile devices, and likely to be engaging in slots play’.

Overseeing UK gambling’s regulatory frameworks, McArthur describes the UKGC as a ‘risk-based regulator’ which has to assess the interlinked dynamics of consumer, product, place and provider.

“As consumers move online and move to use their phones the risk profile changes. For many people, the place they gamble is now their phone, which is always with them.  What new risks does that that create? And consumers playing online are moving to play slots… what new risks does that create”.

Regulating gambling in 2020, McArthur states that the Commission is unafraid in putting forward a ‘bold and innovative’ approach in its aim to reduce harm rates, in which collaboration is key dynamic.

Believing that the industry has finally reached consensus on its issues, McArthur and the UKGC have challenged industry leaders to form an ‘effective Industry Code for Game Design, to be published no later than this Spring’s Raising Standards conference’.

The UKGC’s 2020 agenda will further focus on the ‘incentivisation of high-value customers’, in which its enforcement work indicates that current frameworks are ineffective.

Following industry consultation, the UKGC has accepted GVC Holdings offer to lead the development of a code of conduct on VIP Programmes, in which it aims to deliver tangible progress quickly or else it will enforce further actions to address concerns.

At present, the UKGC awaits the publication of a gambling advertising report commissioned by Gamble Aware, on the effects of industry advertising on children, young audiences and vulnerable adults.

McArthur advises UK gambling to explore how to use Ad-Tech technologies to minimise the risks of gambling advertising exposure, in which Sky Bet has stepped forward to lead the development of initiatives.

McArthur closes his address, by underlining the Commission long-term collaborative goal of developing a ‘single customer viewpoint’, which he believes will be an extremely powerful tool for achieving integrity and raising standards.

“Changes in consumer behaviour and technology will continue to create new risks to consumers and new opportunities to keep them safer. Taking those opportunities will need us all to take risks. Not everything will work. Nothing will be acclaimed or praised until there is clear evidence that it is having a true impact.”

“I and my colleagues at the Commission stand ready to work with anyone who shares our determination to make gambling safer. If we work together, I am sure we can do that.” McArthur details closing his address.

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