Describing gambling as “a very politically, commercially and socially contested space”, the Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission pulled few punches, delivering a robust but positive speech to the 2022 ICE World Regulatory Briefing.
Mr. Rhodes spoke of “universal truths”, a reality that some on both sides of any argument often choose to ignore and suggested that regulators and industry practitioners need to be realistic about these truths and not lose sight of what else is happening in this sector. Mr. Rhodes called gambling “a rental economy, based around taking money in exchange for an experience,” adding that in Great Britain, the industry is worth some £14bn, roughly the same size as the UK agricultural industry.”
His issue here – and the issue, in fact – is that online gambling has now become far bigger than traditional bricks and mortar gambling. This shift to online and mobile means that gambling can be instantly available to consumers, wherever they may be, for “every waking hour”. And because this is now a global and incredibly high-tech industry, tackling harm, crime and fairness requires an innovative response from regulators.
In the UK, gambling with credit cards has been banned, protections for high value customers (VIPs) have been strengthened, as have protections for children, young and vulnerable people, and age, identity verification self-exclusion tools have all been strengthened, but Mr. Rhodes knows there is more work to be done, not least working with industry and the Information Commissioner’s Office to develop what he entitles a ‘Single Customer View’.
“Today, it is possible for someone who is experiencing gambling harm and gambling out of control with one operator, to simply move on to another operator as soon as there is an intervention that stops or inhibits their gambling,” stated Mr. Rhodes. “Of course, this will be complicated and there are many things to navigate, but we have the opportunity to stop the spiral of damaging levels of gambling much, much sooner than before.”
On the subject of collaboration, internationally as well as organisationally, Mr. Rhodes restated the Commission’s belief in its value. “The gambling industry has been consolidating for some time. In Great Britain, we are seeing an increasing number of mergers and acquisitions and ever more complex ownership structures. We are not only regulating global tech companies, but often multinationals with huge resources and complex interests and drivers.
“Across markets, across jurisdictions, across cultures, collaboration will need to be a key tool in our work to make gambling fairer and safer for consumers worldwide. And we as regulators now need to grasp those opportunities to work together in a more joined up way. Let’s do more to share practices, share understandings and share outcomes of our work.”
In closing, Mr. Rhodes could hardly have been more assertive in his call for continued collaboration, in order to protect and move forwards an industry that is so constantly under attack: “We often about what is wrong in the industry we regulate and the challenges we face. We are still too far away from where we need to be, but when I said earlier there are some universal truths, one of those for us is that we have seen a lot of improvements. I am struck by how much misinformation there can be, how statistics are sometimes misused or misinterpreted in order to support an argument. Allegations are far more commonplace, and the seeds of mistrust are sown so easily on all sides.
“Gambling is a fast moving, dynamic industry. It is more and more a global tech industry. And it has many hangers-on, trying to make a quick buck in the unregulated spaces nearby. The potential for innovation has never been so great. But neither has the potential for risk or harm. But we can make gambling fairer, safer and crime free. So let’s push each other forward, share more of what works with each other and let’s help each other guard against new risks.”