Andrew Rhodes: “It’s time everyone faced facts on Safer Gambling duties” 

Andrew Rhodes, the interim Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), has offered his first reflections on the industry’s regulatory developments during Safer Gambling Week (1-7 November). 

Publishing a blog post on the Commission’s website, Rhodes stated that his department still required “to see much greater compliance from the industry across the board”.

Drawing on parallels, Rhodes reflected that the Commission’s job should be like that of a football referee, as during the best matches “you don’t notice his presence – clean competition, where no one’s hurt and everyone goes home having been entertained”.

“In an ideal world we would have little to do. But we’re nowhere near that. The last few years is a tale of escalating enforcement by the Commission, not less,” Rhodes remarked.

“Now we want to get to that ideal, with the level of harm caused by gambling dwindling, and having a constructive and collaborative relationship with industry can be part of how we get there.” 

Rhodes cited that a grown-up relationship required all stakeholders to acknowledge shared facts, as over 40% of the UK population participated in gambling over the past four weeks, with half of consumers choosing to play online.

The UKGC is the regulator of a profit-led sector valued at over £14 billion; gambling in Great Britain is the size of British agriculture. £450 per second was lost by people gambling in Great Britain in 2019/20. For millions, this is the cost of having a good time.

“But for hundreds of thousands of people it’s a problem gambling. It is harm,” Rhodes explained.

“The lived consequences of gambling’s compliance failures, result in people suffering “financial, mental and physical harm because of either their own gambling or that of their loved ones or friends. It’s real, life-changing and can happen to anyone.”

In his short tenure as UKGC CEO, Rhodes reflected that he understood that “there is nothing static about gambling” – hence the Commission must prioritise driving levels of gambling harm down.

Rhodes backed the UKGC in maintaining its collaborative approach to developing a Single Customer View –  the headline project of the Commission’s new three year strategy that secured its phase-1 GDPR ICO approval last month.

It is intended that a Single Customer View will safeguard UK gambling with a cross operator view on a customer’s gambling habits to identify potential risks and harms.

“Good operators don’t want to serve a customer who has already had enough elsewhere. The Single Customer View is about preventing just that. We know it’s technically possible. The ICO has published on how it can be done safely, protecting people’s data. It’s now for industry to trial a solution.”

Whilst projects such as the Single Customer View maintain the Commission’s willingness to collaborate with licensed incumbents, Rhodes stated that efforts were dragged by non-compliant operators that needed to face facts.

“There are still far too many operators not abiding by our rules and that is not acceptable. We want a constructive relationship with industry. But it must be on the basis of compliance and for all the good efforts made, we still see too many instances of things that everyone agrees are things we should not be seeing. These things are not historic – they are happening now.”

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