The UK House of Commons appointed a bipartisan Committee of Public Accounts (the Committee), led by Labour MP Meg Hillier, to delve into the actions, systems and efficacy of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (the Department) and the Gambling Commission (the Commission).
To understand why both the Department and the Commission came under scrutiny it is necessary to understand their individual roles in managing the UK’s regulating gambling market:
- The Department - is responsible for gambling policy and the overall regulatory framework with a key objective being to ensure that all commercial gambling is also socially responsible.
- The Commission – is responsible for the regulation of commercial gambling, by ensuring that it is fair and safe. It also in place to ensure that children and vulnerable people are protected from predatory gambling activities.
The report by the Committee, the Seventh Report of Session 2019–21, is damning in its simplicity, stating:
“The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the Gambling Commission have failed to adequately protect consumers.”
It has found that the overall governance of gambling in the UK has been poorly managed with no measurable results being derived from plans put in place, no real data on at-risk of harmed players being gathered and operators who flaunt the legal requirement of the Commission facing little reprisal for their actions.
✓All Bark And No Bite
As with any commercial venture in order to maintain control and enforce cooperation with regulatory systems in place there needs to be tangible, if not worrying, financial repercussions for non-compliance.
However, in order to facilitate this type of industry control, one needs to be adequately informed. The Committee found the Department and the Commission both to be either unwilling or incapable of collecting the data needed to manage operators and protect players.
Their report claims that the “collection of evidence has been patchy and behind the curve” especially given how quickly online gambling is evolving. This has led to an increase in problem gambling with more than 395,000 players problem gamblers and an additional 1.8 million presenting as “at-risk”.
With these concerning statistics surrounding problem gamblers, the report noted that operators are generating revenues in excess of £11.3 billion while contributing only 0.2% of that amount to player protection programs and the Commission had only levied penalties of £19.6 million.
✓Glaring Weaknesses Exposed
The Committee presented the following findings on the infrastructure, reporting systems and overall functionality of the Commission:
- It is impossible to judge the efficiency of the Gambling Commission against its stated objectives
- It has a weak understanding of the impact gambling harms has on people
- It lacks detailed measurable targets for reducing levels of harm
- It lacks an understanding of the impact of any regulatory action it takes
- Its actions and initiatives have lagged behind developments in the industry, public attitudes and even Parliamentary efforts
In another of those concise statements that cut to the core of the matter the Committee addressed its concerns over the Commissions ability and desire to fulfil its charter saying:
"There is a sense of complacency from the department in tackling this issue. At present, it has no key performance indicators and the departmental leadership lacks urgency to address this"
The report proffered several key items which need to be addressed in order for the Commission to step up and be an effective protectorate of the nations gambling industry:
- Be far quicker at responding to problems and updating licence conditions to protect potentially vulnerable consumers
- Be more proactive in influencing the industry to treat consumers better
- Identify, and act on, potential problems such as the virus lockdown period
- It needs to radically improve the data and insight it collects to know what is going wrong for consumers
- Develop better information on its own performance to determine whether it is being effective or not
The full report in fact went so far as to layout out timelines for each of the above, requesting that the Commission report back on the action it will take to ensure each of the above is actioned and what result is expected from the action it will take.