Gambling White Paper Consultations: The Commission’s First Responses

England and Wales

In July 2023, the Gambling Commission (GC) published its first set of consultations on the Gambling White Paper ‘High stakes: gambling reform for the digital age’. Having received 3,113 responses from stakeholders to the consultations, the GC has now published its response to each of these consultations. We have written separately on financial risk and vulnerability checks - this note looks at the GC’s response to the other consultations.

Direct Marketing

The principal proposal in the consultation was that there should be tougher restrictions on direct marketing as a means of protecting vulnerable consumers.  As explained in our note on the consultation ‘Gambling White Paper Consultations: Improving Consumer Choice on Direct Marketing’, the GC was proposing that the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP) be amended so that operators are required to provide customers with options to opt-in to direct marketing on a per-product (e.g. betting, bingo and casino) and per-channel (e.g. email, phone, SMS) basis.

Such a proposal effectively prohibits ‘soft opt-in’ for marketing, instead requiring all licensees to obtain opt-in consent before marketing to their customers. As we said at the time:

“The consultation proposals relating to direct marketing seem to be particularly onerous in that they restrict gambling operators from using a perfectly legitimate mechanism (used across industries) of sending marketing communications, in the form of soft opt-in. The introduction of the GC’s proposal would put the gambling industry in a unique position, being the only commercial industry not able to benefit from soft-opt in consent. Operators, as well as their affiliates, would be required to complete the arduous process of revisiting all consents currently obtained and would likely face a substantially higher burden to prove informed consent has been freely given going forward.”

As a result of responses to the consultation, the GC’s main proposals regarding direct marketing remain intact although it has made the following minor modifications:

  • the new requirement will no longer apply to land-based gambling or the lottery sectors;
  • post and faxes are no longer to be included in the main marketing channels which will instead be confined to phone, email and texts; and
  • there will no longer be a requirement for operators to stop marketing to customers that have not set their marketing preferences in line with the different product options.

The new LCCP provision will come into force on 17 January 2025 and operators will be required to reconfirm marketing preferences with all customers upon their first log-in after that date unless customers have, by that date, set marketing preferences by product and by channel.  All options presented to customers must contain blank (unticked) options so that customers have to make a conscious choice.

Strengthening Age Verification

As described in our note ‘Gambling White Paper Consultations: Strengthening Age Verification’, the GC’s consultation on strengthening age verification proposed:

  • removing the current exemption from carrying out age verification test purchasing for category A and B licensees of the following types: betting, bingo, family entertainment centre and adult gaming centre; and
  • changing the relevant Ordinary Code elements of the LCCP to say that licensees should have procedures that require their staff to check the age of any customer who appears to be under 25, rather than currently under 21.

Having considered the responses to this consultation, the GC has decided to implement amendments to the Social Responsibility and Ordinary Codes of the LCCP in the form proposed in its consultation.  These changes come into effect on 30 August 2024.

Remote Game Design

This consultation focused on the GC’s Remote Gambling Software Technical Standards (RTS) for online games (other than slots – which were dealt with by way of updates to the RTS in October 2021) with a view to having “a coherent system of safer product design standards” across all verticals.  In particular, the GC’s proposals focused on introducing restrictions in respect of features which could lead to “negative effects on consumers, such as excessive gambling”.

  • We described the GC’s proposals in greater detail in our note ‘Gambling White Paper Consultations: Remote Game Design’, but broadly these were as follows: removing features that can contribute to greater intensity of gameplay such as turbo, quick spin and slam stop;
  • introducing a minimum of 5 seconds for a game cycle;
  • extending the ban on autoplay to all online games;
  • extending the prohibition of celebrating “false wins” to all casino products;
  • prohibiting gaming products from offering the facility to play multiple games simultaneously;
  • extending the requirement to display net time and spend to all casino products; and
  • revising information security standards.

Following its review of the responses to this consultation, apart from some relatively minor clarifications, the GC has decided to implement its consultation proposals. The only notable deviation is that bingo, virtual betting, and peer-to-peer poker have been removed from the prohibition on operator-led functionality which enables the playing of multiple games simultaneously. 

Given the need for a potentially large number of games to require re-testing to ensure compliance with the revised RTS, the implementation date for the amended requirements is 17 January 2025 (other than for the revised information security standards for which the date is 31 October 2024).

Personal Management Licences

Personal Management Licences (PMLs) are currently required to be held by anyone discharging any of the following responsibilities:

  • overall strategy and delivery of gambling operations;
  • financial planning, control and budgeting;
  • marketing and commercial development;
  • regulatory compliance;
  • gambling related IT provision and security;
  • management of licensed activity for a particular area in Great Britain where you have 5 or more sets of premises for which you hold a premises licence; and
  • management of a single set of bingo and/or casino licensed premises

unless the licensee falls within the “small-scale operator” category.

In its consultation, the GC proposed changing the PML requirements as follows:

  • reiterating the requirement for the person with responsibility for the overall management and direction of the licensee’s business or affairs to hold a PML by adding wording to state that this is likely to be a CEO, Managing Director or equivalent;
  • proposing that for organisations with a Board, the person responsible for chairing the Board must hold a PML (where the licensee has such a body);
  • proposing that the person responsible for the licensee’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing function should hold a PML; and
  • proposing that the person responsible for the submission of reports of known or suspected money laundering or terrorist financing activity under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and Terrorism Act 2000 should hold a PML.

The GC has decided to implement its proposals whilst clarifying that the requirement for a chair should only apply where the appointment is for a fixed or indeterminate term office.

Regulatory Panels

The GC proposed changing the composition and conduct of the Panels such that:

  • Panels comprise a legally qualified Adjudicator (as chair), one Commissioner and one member of senior Commission staff, rather than two or three Commissioners; and
  • that decisions by the Panels be paper-based as the default, moving away from hearings as standard. 

It seems that, as predicted in our note ‘Gambling Commission White Paper Consultations: Regulatory Panels’, many of the responses to these proposals were negative and the GC has decided not to implement them at this time.