Bacta Annual Convention

UKGC's Sarah Gardner: regulator will work with industry on safer gambling as the Act Review is “getting closer”

United Kingdom
Reading time 3:04 min

Sarah Gardner, Deputy Chief Executive for the UK Gambling Commission, highlighted efforts towards a safe gambling industry from both the regulator and the industry in a speech at the 2021 Bacta Annual Convention, held last Friday. “Gambling is normal, but harm must not be,” Gardner stated. “We will continue to work to drive the levels of harm down.”

The Deputy Chief Executive started her speech by addressing the impact of COVID-19 on the industry. While Gardner said “it will take some time” to recover, especially for smaller operators, she also explained the pandemic was key in accelerating trends in the industry, especially the move to online and mobile. This, however, has led to a new set of risks they may be exposed to.

“The Gambling Commission is coming out of this year more focussed than ever before on our remit to make gambling fairer, safer and crime-free,” Gardner stated. The Commission has issued over £100 million of penalty packages since 2017/18 and revoked 10 operator licenses since then as well. “The Gambling Commission will take action against any operator, regardless of scale,” she said, alluding to online operator BGO.

While the executive promised the Gambling Commission would continue investigating and taking action, she also said that raising standards for consumers required collaboration with the industry. In an effort to improve the market for consumers, a series of “Industry Challenges” were announced over two years ago.

This commitment led, according to Gardner, to improvements in the treatment of High-Value Customers or ‘VIPs’, the design of online games and products, the use of Ad-Tech to protect young people and vulnerable people. “And all of those improvements started from a call for collaboration,” the Deputy Chief Executive remarked.

According to Gardner, meetings new Chief Executive Andrew Rhodes has held with operators have revealed they also want to build a more sustainable industry. The executive defended that gambling “is normal,” with over 40% of the population having gambled in the last four weeks, but that problem gambling should not be.

“Although recent numbers that the Commission have released suggest that the top line measures of harm are coming down, this is not a time for complacency,” Gardner warned. Statistics show that 0.3% of the population suffer problem gambling versus 0.6% in September 2020, while the moderate risk rate has also decreased significantly to 0.7% versus 1.2% in September 2020.

"Unfortunately, there are still far too many operators not abiding by our rules," she lamented. "That is not acceptable: we want a constructive relationship with the industry, but it must be on the basis of compliance.”

The Deputy Chief Executive also discussed the Gambling Act Review, stating it “creates an opportunity to build on the progress we have made to protect players and the public.” Gardner also said that, based on comments from the Minister and Permanent Secretary, the Review is “getting closer.”

The Gambling Commission is also set to improve its data to be more evidence-based in its approach. During the event, held by the trade association for the amusement and gaming machine industry in the UK, it was announced the regulator has taken steps “to develop and trial a new methodology” for how it collects participation and prevalence statistics

Age verification was also singled out as a key issue to tackle, as good verification policies need to be applied rigorously. A measure taken in this area was raising the age limit for players on Category G cash fruit machines and family entertainment centers to 18.

But the Commission is also working on a new code for game design on machines. “We have high hopes for this work and expect quicker progress as a result of the collaboration in action,” said Gardner. 

The executive also highlighted new developments in cashless wallet apps, saying it was “vitally important” for the industry to focus on the consumer experience, while also presenting an opportunity for safer gambling. “We want to hear from any operator trialing them or using them on how it’s going,” she said.