Gambling Commission CEO: We want operators to improve what they know about customers

In the last 12 months, the Gambling Commission has carried out more than 160 investigations and levied fines of £19.6m ($24.8m) against operators.

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Speaking at a media event for the launch of the regulator’s enforcement report, attended by Gambling Insider, executives from the Commission said more needs to be done by operators to get to know their customers.

In its annual report, the Commission has highlighted problematic areas the industry faces, and offered advice to companies in the form of health checks.

The report and its associated materials, primarily a training video, focus on delivering the messages of the Commission to operators' different levels of management.

One of the key areas of discussion was affordability and consumer protection. The report charts monthly disposable income across a range of salaries.

Richard Watson, Executive Director of Enforcement and Intelligence, said this was designed to help change the mindset of operators; the aim is for them to get to know their customers first, rather than waiting until patterns of problem gambling emerge before making contact.

Watson wants operators to "have a look at what true disposable income is." On the matter of different thresholds of income, Watson said: "You can see where they fit into the framework of managing people, it makes sense. But operators are not basing them on their customers."

He continued to say the Commission has seen examples of threshold setting more to do with the size of a company than the customers themselves. The result of that is people falling into problematic areas without interventions kicking in.

Watson wants to see the industry pool its efforts in this field and share information and success stories with customer interaction. Neil McArthur, CEO of the Gambling Commission, said: "The most effective thing is that which is as frictionless as possible for the consumer.

"We want to see more trials that constantly improve what operators know about their customers."

Gambling with credit cards also plays a role with affordability and, while the field was not directly covered in the report, McArthur said the product of the Commission's request for information from operators will emerge shortly.

McArthur took some time to discuss the joint investigation the Commission carried out with the Competition Markets Authority (CMA), and believes he has seen progress in the area. He wants to see the clearest possible information sent to customers and will keep working on the progress made so far.

Whether or not it was his intention, Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East and Shadow Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, raised doubts over the effectiveness of the Commission last week. He asked for a new industry Ombudsman and declared online operators must go through a new application process.

This gave the Commission an opportunity to emphasise one of its main points of the day: the ongoing nature of its work. McArthur said operators are already the subject of significant attention and therefore believes the Commission would pick up on areas of concern.

He commented: "Our dynamic risk assessment is constantly asking the question of: is this operator suitable to provide the facilities they are offering?

"That’s a constant touchstone for us in terms of every contact we have with an operator and every piece of information that comes in."

He did admit to there being an issue with regards to the Ombudsman debate sparked by Watson. There was a bit of a gap, he said, between the Commission’s work and the cases alternate dispute resolution (ADR) entities tend to deal with. The question of whether a customer was treated fairly can fall into this gap.

McArthur said: "We’re doing a lot of work around the part we control, which is not fundamentally about consumer redress, it’s more about systems. We are not here for customer service, we are here for the systemic controls. But we can see in some cases there is an overlap."

Despite admitting to this gap, McArthur said the Commission has not reached a point where it feels it needs an Ombudsman, but could see it as a possible position.

Watson said the Commission is seeing some progress overall, but there still have been cases where serious action is needed. The businesses learning, he adds, are making the right investment, training staff and taking the time and trouble to read the published guidance.

It’s not just the big companies getting the message; it is a mix of operators driving to be compliant, McArthur points out. The right tone at the top of the company is important, according to the CEO, but it must "cascade its way through the company."

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