COVID-19: UKGC issues heightened affordability guidance

Seeking to enhance protection for consumers, the UK Gambling Commission has mapped out its latest guidance for operators, placing an elevated focus on affordability. 

The Commission cited new evidence as to why the guidance was needed, with it stating that certain gamblers may be at risk of greater harm during the lockdown period.

Seeking to strengthen protections for the most vulnerable, the UKGC has made it clear that operators must carry out more stringent due diligence on affordability checks, as well as prevent reverse withdrawals and stop bonuses for those displaying indicators of harm.

In its decision, the UKGC underlined research carried out by YouGov which found that while gambling participation has fallen, reflecting the closure of land-based venues and the postponement of sports, consumer gambling habits have changed as a result of COVID-19.

A statement by the Commission emphasised: “The shift in the market as a result of Covid-19 evidence shows an increase in the use of certain gambling products such as online slots, poker, casino gaming and virtual sports.”

In light of potential risks that vulnerable players may be experiencing during lockdown, new UKGC guidance demands that all online operators carry out additional requirements including:

  •   Stopping all reverse withdrawal options for customers until further notice 
  •   Ceasing bonus offers and promotions to all customers displaying ‘harm indications’.
  •   Requiring direct interaction with all customer that have participated in ‘an hour single session of play’
  •   Reviewing safer gambling thresholds and triggers for new customers
  •   Conducting further affordability checks on players displaying harm indications
  •   Enforcing immediate deposit limits and blocks on customers displaying harmful behaviour.
  •   Ensuring comprehensive monitoring of customer base – identifying dangerous play and spending habits.

The UKGC also encouraged license holders to ‘make changes to act on this guidance as soon as possible’.

Confirming its new guidance, Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said: “Operators must use the data they hold to protect their customers and now, more than ever, it’s vital that online operators really know their customers by monitoring how long they are playing for and understanding how financial uncertainty is impacting them and what they can afford to gamble with.  

“To ensure operators do that, we are strengthening our guidance and expect operators to take account of that to prevent bonus offers or inducements being offered to customers who are showing any sign of harm. 

“Work was already underway to address many of these issues but this means we will now accelerate this work due to the unique situation that many consumers will find themselves in during lockdown.    

‘’We will continue to monitor and publish the data that we are collecting and we will take further measures if required. We are monitoring online operators closely and if we see irresponsible behaviour we will step in immediately, suspending licences if we need to.”   

The Commission will bring forward plans to consult on whether further targeted player protection measures are required on a permanent basis.  

The UKGC measures have been approved by the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport. Minister for Sports, Tourism and Heritage Nigel Huddleston said: “It is vital that people are protected from the threat of gambling-related harm and I welcome these latest steps from the Gambling Commission.  

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will not hesitate to take further action if required.”