The UK gambling sector is going to change in the next couple of years. You can take this for granted. The industry itself certainly is. All that is up for grabs now is the size and nature of those changes.
Ian Proctor, who chairs Flutter UK, has said he wants the change to be impactful.
The UK Gambling Commission, the UK’s gambling regulator, is due to deliver the UK Gambling Act Review this year.
The review is likely to recommend changes to respond to widespread public concern about the potential harms of a gambling industry that has exploded in recent years.
In 2005, the UK gambling industry was effectively deregulated, after decades of very tight regulation. That meant some new casinos and other in-real-life innovations, but the biggest changes were made possible by the simultaneous explosion in access to high-speed broadband internet. That led to massive growth in online gambling of all forms, and it is around this that most concern has been expressed.
Those concerns have culminated in the review, due this year, and on which Ian Proctor was commenting in a major London financial paper, City AM.
Proctor says that he, and other big operators, are prepared for change, as long as it’s the “right change” and focuses most of all on protecting players.
He wrote: “Getting to the right answer on affordability is complex and not without some knotty ethical issues. It requires finding a critical balance which allows us to protect the most vulnerable from potential harm without disproportionately impinging on the personal freedom of the vast majority of the 30 million people who enjoy a gamble in the UK every year. In essence, it is about looking at financial vulnerability in combination with a range of factors, to prevent harm.”
Adding: “We are looking to drive the right kind of change which works even if it isn’t easy.”
The industry – and customers – are watching closely in the run-up to the release of the review. Recent research from Oxford University showed big problems for online gambling customers related to customer deposit patterns.
No surprise then that the industry now wants to see this information in a “more nuanced” way that brings in other information.
Proctor wrote: “This means not considering affordability in isolation, but in the context of many other data points including frequency of bets and deposits, personal circumstances, time, products used and, crucially, changes in usual patterns of behaviour for each customer. When all these inputs are considered together, we can take an impactful approach to player protection.”
All sorts of potential changes have been floated, most commonly advertising bans (usually relating to the massive visibility of gambling companies on football shirts in the UK), but also deposit or staking limits. The industry has started to make changes of its own accord, measuring how much money comes from “problem gamblers” for example. And the regulator has also started to make changes to rules prior to the release of the report, including major changes to the way machines are allowed to operate that have included stopping auto spin features.
It’s an uncertain time for the industry and for customers.