GC: Operators must interact with one in 12 online casino players

| By Daniel O'Boyle
The Gambling Commission has told operators to stop marketing to customers who spend a “significant proportion” of discretionary income on gambling, and that they should perform responsible gambling interactions with one in every 12 online gaming customers.

The Commission published guidance today (21 June) as a follow-up to its new rules for players at risk of harm, which were published in April. These rules, as outlined at the time, instructed operators licensed in Great Britain to ban marketing to customers deemed to be at-risk.

Licensees must also flag indicators of harm and take action in a timely manner, as well as  implementing automated processes for strong indicators of harm.

At the time, the Commission announced that further guidance would come in June.

This guidance has not provided specific details of what an “at-risk customer” may be, but noted that a wide range of factors may play into determining this. This includes personal and demographic factors such as age and health, situational factors such as financial difficulties, behavioural factors including attitude to risk, market-related factors such as the type of bets placed and access, which related to factors such as literacy and numeracy skills.

Specifically, the Commission highlighted certain behaviours that are much more associated with harmful play, such as “unmonitored overnight gambling”.

Rather than mentioning specific thresholds that could apply across all customers, the Commission noted that operators need to do more to create tailored thresholds based on open-source information about their customers.

“Historically, gambling licensees have not systematically considered customer affordability when developing their customer interaction policies,” it said. “Many have used deposit or loss thresholds as a main or sole prompt for a customer interaction, but these have often been set at levels that were inappropriately high, in comparison to the average amount of money that the majority of people have available to spend on leisure activities. 

“This has led to a number of examples of customers spending more than they could afford, and this not being identified sufficiently early, as seen in much of the Commission’s compliance and enforcement casework.

“Open source data exists which can help licensees assess affordability for their GB customer base and improve their risk assessment for customer interactions. Thresholds should be realistic, based on average available income for your customers.”

However, the regulator added that “most people would consider it harmful if they were spending a significant proportion of their discretionary income on gambling”. Discretionary income, it noted, excludes essential costs such as housing and bills.

The Commission also said that further guidance on financial risk will come soon, but “licensees should be considering how they manage those risks now”.

Further clues of the Commission’s definition of an “at-risk customer” came as the regulator noted that different types of gambling activity may require different strategies. Here, the regulator said that licensees must “must take account of problem gambling rates for the relevant gambling activity”, and perform customer interactions “at minimum, in line with this level”.

However, it noted that this provision cannot “mandate the outcome” of the interactions.

Quoting the 2018 Public Health England survey, it said that 8.5% of online gaming –  players are classed as problem gamblers, as are 3.7% of online sports betting customers and 1.3% of customers at lotteries other than the National Lottery.

“If the licensee’s systems do not identify numbers of customers at least in line with the problem gambling rates for the relevant activity, those systems are likely to be failing to identify the right
proportion of customers,” the Commission said. “Operators must ensure that they are on track to meet the minimum levels of customer interactions over an annual period, and to do so should assess progress monthly.”

This would suggest that the regulator would expect minimum interactions with more than one in 12 online gaming customers.

“We will update the guidance over time where we consider it necessary to reflect recent problem gambling prevalence statistics,” the Commission said.

The Gambling Commission recently announced it would launch a new method of measuring harm, following a pilot survey. This method found that levels of gambling harm were higher than in the PHE survey, but it cautioned that the survey “should not be used as an estimate of problem gambling at this stage”, for reasons including the fact that it appears to oversample gamblers compared to non-gamblers.

All of the new rules will come into effect on 12 September,

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