Andrew Rhodes: UK gambling has too many repeat offenders on compliance failings

Andrew Rhodes, Interim Chief Executive of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), has warned industry leadership that his department will no longer tolerate “recidivist behaviours towards compliance” as operators are ordered to maintain their licensing duties.

Speaking at GambleAware’s Annual Conference, Rhodes stated that the Commission supported the conference’s key theme of ‘deeper collaboration to prevent gambling harms’. However, stakeholder ambitions should reflect the realities of governing a multi-billion-pound industry.

He explained: “In terms of our role at the Gambling Commission, our job is to permit gambling as long as that is consistent with the licensing objectives. Those objectives say that gambling must be fair, crime-free and protect the vulnerable from harm.

“In an ideal world, the Commission would have little to do beyond licensing operators. But that is far from the case… We are no way near that at this point in time. There is simply too much harm from gambling as a result of too little compliance amongst too many operators.”

Rhodes underlined that the Commission had witnessed an intense period of escalating enforcement on compliance in which his department had recovered over £100 million from penalty enforcements and revoked 10 licences – not accounting for licence surrenders prior to investigations.  

Yet of utmost concern to Rhodes were the number of reoffending companies that had conceded regulatory settlements rather than being fined. He added: “We are seeing the same companies committing the same offences for second or even third times.

“It’s a recidivist behaviour, and I have a concern that those operators are starting to see fines as a compliance measure, that is something that we are not prepared to tolerate.” 

Rhodes acknowledged that collaboration had helped the UKGC secure positive outcomes on reforming VIP schemes, improving game designs and introducing new ad-tech controls, key objectives of the Commission’s National Strategy to reduce gambling harms.

Though encouraged, collaborative efforts are undermined as the sector and its participants do not have a shared understanding of what UK gambling has become. On this conundrum, Rhodes stated that stakeholders should reflect on “what the data is and isn’t telling us”.

“Today the gambling sector is roughly the same size as the agricultural industry. Nearly half the population gambles in one way or another during each month.

“Operators yield £14.1 billion after winnings are paid. That means that the industry can take £450 pounds per second from consumers within the UK. It is unbelievable to conceive. But what is more if we take out the National Lottery, 5% of customers account for 90% of gross gambling yield.”

On data, the Commission and wider stakeholders maintain blind spots on how the data should be interpreted with regards to relaying real-life interactions and experiences with gambling.

Much needed collaboration on data interpretation has been replaced by fixation in some quarters on the % outcome of the UK’ problem gambling rates – “When you add up all those affected by gambling harm it is much bigger than 0.5%”.

Data interpretation will be expanded upon as a key objective of the Commission undertaking new projects with regards to its research methodologies and the creation of a single customer viewpoint.  

On enforcement, Rhodes stated that the “penalties were no subsitute for raising standards”. Reflecting on operators’ concerns that tougher enforcement would benefit the black market, he shared that leadership concerns were overstated. 

“We are not going to be deflected away from that mission, in some sort of race to the bottom, because others are worse. That’s the whole point of having a regulated market.

“We are aware that if you introduce the wrong friction, you can drive consumers to the black market, but we are nowhere near that. Our regulatory posture has changed because there are too many cases that make everyone blush… and that has to stop. “