Gambling White Paper Consultations: Strengthening Age Verification

United Kingdom

On 26 July 2023, the Gambling Commission (GC) published their first set of consultations on the Gambling White Paper, which cover four key areas:

  • Improving consumer choice on direct marketing
  • Strengthening age verification in premises
  • Remote game design
  • Financial vulnerability and financial risk

This article focuses on strengthening age verification in premises.

Whilst online age verification mechanisms are generally thought to be effective, the current rules around access for under 18s in land-based premises vary. For example, whilst under 18s are not allowed in casinos or betting shops, they are allowed inside bingo halls (although they must be prevented from accessing adult-only areas).

The White Paper confirms that “safeguarding children from gambling-related harm is a priority for the government”. In it, the government sets an expectation that the GC will “introduce consistency in test purchasing across the gambling sector and a better understanding of the risks of underage play in smaller premises and venues which are not directly supervised”.

The GC’s consultation splits this topic into three sections:

  1. The proposed removal of the current exemption from completing age verification test purchasing for category A and B licensees of certain activities.
  2. The proposal to change elements of the licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP) so that licensees should introduce procedures that require staff to challenge the age of consumers who appear under 25 (as opposed to 21 as the current LCCP states).
  3. Seeking views on age verification procedures licensees have in place where premises are not directly supervised, and whether these are effective.

Test Purchasing

Test purchasing is when a company or authority hires an underage customer to visit a bar, shop or venue and attempt to buy age-restricted items. Since 2015, the majority of non-remote licensees have been required to complete their own test purchasing to check that the age verification procedures they have in place are adequate. However, these requirements did not apply to smaller operators with up to 15 separate premises (specifically licensees in fee categories A and B for betting, adult gaming centres (AGC), family entertainment centres and bingo).

The GC states that the test purchasing results for gambling compare well with other industries, with the pass rates in 2020 generally being higher than pass rates for the sale of alcohol at supermarkets and convenience stores. However, with the current exemption of licensees in fee categories A and B, the GC argues that it is difficult to evaluate the full picture. Data submitted by licensees in 2022-23 show that “fewer than a fifth of category A and fewer than half of category B licensees had submitted results to us by the requested deadline”.

The GC proposes removing this exemption entirely, advising that they “would use the testing data submitted by category A and B licensees to help assess whether they had effective policies and procedures to prevent underage gambling”.

Think 21 to Think 25

The GC proposes that the current “Think 21” provisions contained in the codes of good practice in the LCCP (requiring licensees to check the age of anyone who they believe is under the age of 21) are updated to increase the checking age from 21 to 25.

The White Paper notes that certain operators have done this voluntarily, and the GC claims that there are a number of calls from the industry and campaign groups (including the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling) to introduce “Think 25”. Whilst the test purchasing pass rate for gambling was generally higher than for other industries, the GC highlighted bingo and AGCs as particular concerns, with 16% and 18% of testers (respectively) not challenged at all.

Increasing the current requirement to “Think 25” would bring the gambling industry in line with the current requirements in the alcohol industry.

Age verification procedures licensees have in place where premises are not directly supervised

The GC is seeking views on whether premises in which consumers may gamble without direct supervision (e.g. motorway services) have adequate age verification in place. The current LCCP requires licensees to have in place effective policies to prevent underage gambling, and to monitor these to ensure they are effective.

The White Paper required the GC, through its consultation, to evaluate the evidence around these policies for premises that are not directly supervised. The GC’s July consultation is therefore seeking views on this topic. The question asked is rather broad, namely “considering particularly premises that do not have direct staff supervision” asking for stakeholders to provide views and any supporting evidence “on the controls deployed by licensees (and their effectiveness) to meet our requirements on the prevention of underage gambling”.

The measures discussed above highlight a key difference between gambling online and gambling in-person. Although online gambling is significantly easier to access, it could be argued that it is safer for vulnerable consumers than  products consumed in land-based offerings. Online, it can be easier to track spending, access self-help tools, and set monetary limits, all things that may be considerably harder to do in-person. It is also easier for online operators to track consumer spend, thus making it easier to track when there may be a problem and mitigate the possibility of harm.

The GC’s first set of consultations closes on 18 October 2023. Please click here to provide a response.