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UK Gambling Commission threatens stiffer penalties

TAGs: UK Gambling Commission

The UK Gambling Commission has warned gambling operators that they’ll face stiffer financial penalties and possible license revocation if they don’t step up their game.

uk-gambling-commission-stiffer-penaltiesOn Tuesday, UKGC CEO Sarah Harrison (pictured) gave a speech (read it here) at the regulator’s first Raising Standards Conference in Birmingham, in which she urged commercial gambling operators to accelerate policies that make consumers the focus of future business decisions.

Harrison praised some operators for “heading in the right direction” but believes “the pace of change within the industry needs to quicken.” Harrison said the gambling industry wasn’t alone in facing this call for improvement, but “where markets are dysfunctional, then the government will intervene.”

Harrison said her ambition was to see operators compete not only in providing the best odds, but also the best service. Operators should be asking themselves ‘what does the consumer need’ rather than ‘what does the UKGC expect.’

Harrison said the UKGC had received 40k emails and 37k phone calls from members of the public in the past 12 months, a “huge increase – well over 300% on the last two years.” The bulk of these missives involved issues of self-exclusion, withdrawal of customer funds, terms and conditions, and advertising and marketing.

Harrison said many of these issues will be subject to the recently announced probes by the UKGC and the Competition & Markets Authority. But the UKGC also intends to launch a review of the Alternative Dispute Resolution provision in the gambling sector and Harrison urged/warned operators to “take the initiative to drive up standards in complaints handling and redress.”

Harrison also warned operators to “raise your game” in terms of anti-money laundering compliance, given that recent caseworks showed “a lack of curiosity, and at worst, a leadership culture which puts commercial gain over compliance.” Harrison said a ‘wait and see’ approach that requires a source of funds to be proven to be illegal before operators act is “far from a risk-based strategy, nor is it credible.”

The UKGC’s existing preference for pursuing compliance stops short of a license review in favor of a regulatory settlement. On Tuesday, Harrison warned that the UKGC proposes to “remove this bias in favor of a settlement” and to “put access to all tools, including license review (both of the operator and personal management licenses), on an equal footing.”

Operators will also face higher financial penalties, “in particular where we see systemic and repeated failings.” Harrison warned that this new policy applies to “all cases relating to breaches which date from now.” Harrison also said the UKGC was mulling the use of “time-limited discounts” to incentivize operators to accelerate the often “too drawn out” settlement process.

Harrison said the UKGC plans to set out proposals for its new enforcement policy by Christmas, and hopes to implement the changes before the start of the UKGC’s next financial year on April 1, 2017.

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