Social Responsibility in Gambling: Challenges and Solutions
Richard Williams, a Leading Gaming Lawyer in the UK, discusses challenges in promoting social responsibility in the gambling industry and how operators can overcome them.
Social responsibility is a critical issue for the gambling industry, as operators face several challenges in promoting responsible gambling practices. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Richard Williams, a Partner at Keystone Law, who is recognised by The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners 2023 as a Leading Gaming Lawyer. In this article, we will summarise his responses to our questions about social responsibility in the gambling industry.
When asked about the key challenges that gambling operators face in promoting social responsibility and how they can overcome them, Mr Williams highlighted the issue of operators' lack of knowledge about new customers. When a new customer registers for an account, the operator initially knows very little about that customer's psychological state and/or financial situation. Assuming the customer is not registered with GAMSTOP and has not previously self-excluded with the operator, the account will be opened, and the customer must be offered an opportunity to set financial limits. However, many customers ignore these options, leaving the operator with a customer they know very little about. This lack of knowledge about the customer places the operator at risk they may be dealing with a problem gambler without knowing it.
To promote social responsibility, operators must monitor the activity of customers and create their own social responsibility "triggers" so that they can be made aware of concerns and act before the situation escalates. For example, a new player might be playing for long periods of time, late at night, chasing losses, having deposits declined or losing a large amount of money over a short period of time. Once concerns are flagged, operators must take action quickly, which is one area where procedures often fall down. Mr Williams emphasised that there is no point flagging concerns about a customer's activity and then doing nothing about it, or sending out a stream of automated e-mails. In certain situations, the customer's account should be suspended, so that they can't lose any more money whilst their financial position and well-being are analysed, usually by way of a telephone call and funds enquiry form. Once operators have built up a history of activity for a customer and their financial position, they are better placed to make decisions about the risks of that activity. Ultimately, promoting social responsibility may mean that operators have to turn off a good source of revenue, but this is preferable to paying a large fine for social responsibility failings.
When asked about how the legal and regulatory frameworks in the UK can be improved to better address social responsibility challenges in the gambling industry, Mr Williams noted that the government's White Paper has not yet been published. However, proposals may require operators to check whether the customer is financially vulnerable, rather than checking their affordability. Vulnerability checks could, for example, include checking for bankruptcy, mortgage or credit card arrears, payday loans, or court judgments. In certain situations, a customer could be prohibited from opening a gambling account, or low financial limits could be imposed on their account. Proposals to allow operators to share customer information to form a "single customer view" may also come to fruition. Whatever measures are imposed on operators after the Gambling Act review, there are signs that some operators have already taken onboard the learnings from previous licence reviews and financial penalties, and that they are taking a much more responsible approach to customers, preferring to have repeat leisure customers losing small amounts rather than a small pool of high revenue-generating customers. However, large financial settlements/fines for social responsibility failings continue to be announced by the Commission.
Finally, we asked Mr Williams how gambling operators can ensure that their marketing and advertising activities are conducted responsibly and do not target vulnerable individuals or encourage excessive gambling behaviour. He noted that gambling operator marketing and advertising is already tightly controlled by the ASA CAP and BCAP Codes and the IGRG Code, backed up by strict licence conditions (LCCP) and Social Responsibility Code. While there are a few reported cases of ASA rule breaches every year, in his view, gambling advertising is already pretty compliant. The advertising rules were further tightened in late 2022, to protect children from gambling advertising. There are also signs that the industry is moving ahead of potential restrictions in the White Paper, such as the proposed Premier League shirt front voluntary advertising ban.