More from UKGC’s Rhodes on the Gambling White Paper

More from UKGC’s Rhodes on the Gambling White Paper - Banner
Simon Wooldridge
by Simon Wooldridge Last updated:

In recent months there’s been widespread talk about exactly how the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) will be implementing the changes proposed in the 2023 White Paper.

Now, as part of his speech at the Westminster Media Forum, on 13 May 2024, the UKGC’s CEO, Andrew Rhodes has elaborated on the impending regulation changes. And more.

Interestingly, a large portion of Rhodes’ speech focused on a topic which hasn’t received as much attention as background checks and stake limits: the Commission’s approach to illegal gambling.

Takeaways from Rhodes’ speech

Before exploring the wider implications of Rhodes’ speech, let’s consider some of the key points…

New restrictions and White Paper progress

Good headway is being made in the implementation of the White Paper, particularly with regard to game design, risk checks, age verification, marketing laws and licensing.

Restrictions which previously related just to slots, such as autoplay functions, speed limits, and misleading audio or visual cues, will be extended to other online products.

The introduction of new rules will be considered urgent, but staggered, so that operators have a chance to get on top of the new requirements.

Going easy on brick and mortar casinos

As a result of compelling arguments made during consultations, the UKGC “will not include land-based gambling and the lottery sectors” in the new requirements. New requirements will apply only to online operators, and will come into effect fully in January 2025.

However, in-person gambling good practice guidelines will introduce the ‘challenge 25’ method, verifying the age of anyone who appears to be under the age of 25, rather than 21.

Good news for compliance levels

The Commission has been cracking down on non-compliance in recent years, with many legitimate, big-name operators facing steep fines after failing to comply with UKGC regulations. 

Rhodes claims that the past couple of years have seen a significant rise in compliance levels as a result of the UKGC being “the most active regulator in the world”. 

He went on to say that, in the 2023-24 period, “the proportion of operators being assessed and found compliant [...] has doubled”.

Going ahead with the background check pilot

Rhodes also touched on the delicate subject of financial risk checks, which has been suggested may violate players’ privacy. Rhodes said: 

“Our response confirms the introduction of light-touch financial vulnerability checks, and a pilot of enhanced frictionless financial risk assessments.”

Light-touch checks will be applied to "customers with a net deposit of more than £150 a month". The overall aim being:

"Better identification of acutely financially vulnerable online customers... such as those subject to bankruptcy orders or those with a history of unpaid debts.” 

These will debut with a higher threshold, to ease them in, in early 2025. 

The more thorough financial risk checks, which make use of processes to assess risk of harm of gambling will be piloted for six months. It’s intended that these be: 

“Frictionless for the vast majority of customers” and “neither the light touch checks nor the financial risk assessment pilot will affect consumer credit ratings."

The pilot will serve as a beta test of these methods, and only after this has proven effective will enhanced checks be officially introduced. 

Illegal gambling in the spotlight

Also a “key priority” for Rhodes is addressing and curbing the rise in illegal gambling. 

Legitimate operators are hardly struggling (Rhodes mentioned the 90 billion bets taken by the six largest operators). Still, illegal and unlicensed companies are taking a large bite out of the British economy whilst also endangering players. 

There’s been a distinct lack of discourse surrounding this matter until now. The UKGC intends to: 

“Identify and undertake high impact interventions, to disrupt unlicensed operators targeting consumers in Great Britain.” 

As part of its efforts in this area, Rhodes revealed that the UKGC has been partnering with HMRC, the National Crime Agency, and the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit – a pretty impressive-looking collaboration, it must be said.

Software licensees have been brought into the discussion. The UKGC is hoping to “prevent access to popular products when their games appear to be available on illegal sites”.

It was recently reported that certain illegal operators are using malicious marketing methods to attract players. To his credit, Rhodes acknowledged these issues and promised that the Commission will set its sights on “those websites and affiliates which target vulnerable consumers such as Gamstop self-excluded players.”

Rhodes went on to detail some of the Commission’s recent achievements in this area:

  • In January, 98 cease and desist notices were issued, resulting in “39 successful disruption outcomes”

  • Rhodes cites the shutting down and fining of “illegal Facebook lotteries” as an early success

  • The UKGC has referred more than 7,000 web addresses to Google, having them removed from search results

  • The Commission’s enforcement activity has been increased by over 500% since 2022

  • In the same period, the UKGC has “more than trebled the number of successful positive illegal website disruption outcomes”

An effective manifesto

Economical wellbeing

As Rhodes mentioned at the beginning of his speech, the British gambling industry is something we can be proud of, as “the largest regulated online gambling market in the world”. 

Gambling contributes massively to the UK economy, with “a gross value now north of £15 billion” whilst providing entertainment to millions of Brits.

Effective regulations

The new regulations mentioned by Rhodes are the result of a series of consultations, and appear to be reasonably sensible and well-founded. They’re likely to prove effective in reducing gambling-related harm, especially among young and potentially vulnerable people.

Addressing illegal gambling

It’s definitely time that the issue of illegal operators got more of the UKGC’s attention. And, based on the proportion of Rhodes’ speech that he dedicated to this issue, that time has come.

Also reassuring is the fact that the UKGC is partnering with other government agencies, including those with arguably more influence when it comes to enforcing the law. It has been suggested that this move may mark a significant shift in the Commission’s approach to illegal gambling. 

Replacing its reactive approach with a proactive one should enable the regulator to address problems more quickly, which will be beneficial to players as well as the British economy.

Room for improvement?

Risk check ‘pilot’ a consolation prize

Rhodes’ announcement that risk checks will be subject to a pilot scheme seems like a thin attempt to appease those who objected to it.

Many have contested the introduction of background checks, voicing valid concerns. Rhodes, rather than addressing these specific concerns, appears to be throwing the objectors a bone by suggesting that the pilot is explorative. 

In reality, it’s probably fair to assume these checks are coming, regardless of objections.

UKGC’s powers are too limited

Regarding dealing with illegal operators, Rhodes acknowledged the UKGC’s lack of legal clout and need for more power. The Commission is largely restricted to issuing cease and desist orders and ‘disrupting’.

However, additional powers are apparently “on course to be delivered by the current Criminal Justice Bill, which is progressing through Parliament”. Rhodes insists that “we are making progress in this space”, but more specific details would be welcomed. 

What about the GSGB?

The Gambling Survey for Great Britain (GSGB) was absent from Rhodes’ speech, despite being central to the UKGC’s next steps. 

Rhodes and the Commission have stressed the value of basing decisions on high quality evidence, and the GSGB was thought to be the hotly-awaited foundation of this. 

The fact that the GSGB didn’t even get a mention, let alone an update, is odd. Its absence in Rhodes’ speech may raise questions about the progress of the latest wave of data collection.

Our thoughts?

So what do we, at No Wagering’, think about this?

The UKGC’s central responsibility remains a tightrope act, to strike a “balance between an individual’s freedom to decide what they want to do and the need to make sure people are also protected”. 

Regulatory change is most often for the greater good, and for this reason we welcome it. The damage that illegal gambling is doing especially requires robust attention.

There should be space within the legal market for players to enjoy gambling responsibly and independently, without being subjected to invasive investigations or measures which serve to isolate them. The vast majority of players gamble responsibly, and these individuals should not have their enjoyment stifled.