On 26 June, the Gambling Commission published its initial response to the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board’s (RGSB) report on children, young people and gambling. Whilst the response predominantly covers familiar ground – emphasising work already underway and re-iterating regulatory changes that the Commission intends to implement - it also provides a useful reminder of the Commission’s key concerns in this area and a sign of the developments the industry can expect over the coming years.
The response appears to represent a step in the longer process of tackling harm to under-18s, with the regulator stating in its introduction that “there is certainly a call for greater public debate about the role and position of gambling in society and what actions are appropriate and proportionate to achieve the necessary levels of protection for children and young people. This document is intended to represent a platform for further debate”. The key points for such debate – as outlined in the response – are as follows.
The Commission states that the RGSB’s report confirms their view that age verification processes are in need of improvement, noting that – whilst age verification processes can never be perfect – higher rates of detection than are currently achieved should be aimed for. The Commission also states that the testing of these processes to ensure they are effective requires further attention. To that end, they note that they intend to carry out a “programme of targeted work to identify and tackle any weaknesses in businesses’ age verification processes”, such as online test purchasing. Operators would be wise to ensure that their verification processes are as effective as possible in anticipation of such scrutiny.
The Commission also references its recent review of online gambling, in which it committed to consult on its proposal to require all consumers to be age verified before they are able to deposit money to gamble. This would be a major change from the current requirements of the Commission’s ‘Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice’ (LCCP), under which operators have a period of 72 hours to carry out the necessary checks, during which time it is possible for a consumer to register an account and deposit funds for gambling. Unfortunately for operators, the Commission’s response document does not state when this consultation will commence.
Advertising and marketing
The Commission also re-iterates its concerns in respect of the advertising of gambling, including sponsorship, and how this can lead to gambling-related harm amongst under-18s. To tackle such harm – as explained in the response – the Commission has been strengthening its partnership with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who have themselves been cracking down on gambling adverts appealing to children of late, as seen in the recent rulings against M88.com, TGP Europe and Coral. Such rulings follow in the wake of the industry-wide letter circulated last year by the Commission, ASA, Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Remote Gambling Association. This warned of the need to take down “freely accessible” adverts that may appeal to children, and was followed up with numerous pieces of guidance from CAP in which particular focus was given to the use of game names (such as ‘Fluffy Favourites’) and game icons viewable pre-registration, that could be of particular appeal to children.
The Commission explains that it is currently providing input to the ASA’s review of guidelines in relation to children and young people, and will also consider if “their guidelines on inappropriate content and imagery, which could have a particular appeal to children and young people, could also be applied more widely to aspects of game design which are not captured within their remit – such as scratchcard design, which is nonetheless highly visible at point of sale to children and young people”. It will be interesting to see how the Commission will look to implement this, whether it is through the addition of principles-based provisions in the LCCP, or something more specific in the ‘Remote Gambling and Software Technical Standards’.
Another hot topic over the past 18 months has been the rise of ‘skins betting’. Referencing their role in the FUTgalaxy case – the first ever UK prosecution involving video games gambling - the Commission re-iterates its concern regarding online skins gambling and emphasises the need for international co-ordination amongst regulators to tackle it. The Commission explains that they will nevertheless continue to put pressure on video game companies, who they see as best placed to tackle the harm caused by skins gambling, to be “vigilant to the risks of third parties using their products and services to provide illegal gambling”. The regulator claims that it will likewise put pressure on internet service providers, app stores and search engines to do the same.
Back in October last year, Tim Miller (Executive Director of Corporate Affairs and Research at the Commission) sent an open letter to the Sunday Times following the newspapers story about the risks of children being exposed to gambling online. This too highlighted the Commission’s concern in respect of the “clash between the world of computer games and the world of gambling”, which – judging by the Commission’s response to the RGSB’s report – looks set to remain high up the regulatory agenda.
Education and treatment
Finally, the Commission not only lays responsibility for the protection of children at the doors of operators, games developers, and regulators, but also that of parents, stating that “reducing gambling-related harm in children and young people needs more than regulatory action. It also requires action from parents and families if a real and lasting impact is to be made”. The Commission acknowledges, however, that to play such a role, parents require adequate support from regulators, schools and other agencies, and increased visibility of gambling-related harm in order that they may recognise this as an issue. The RGSB’s report calls for more joined up strategic approaches in this regard generally, and the Commission states in its response its support for this and its intention to work with the RGSB “reflect cross-government and public sector work in national strategic plans for preventative education and treatment services”.