UK warns online gambling ops (again) re pandemic safeguards


uk-online-gambling-warning-pandemic-responsibilitiesUK online gambling operators have been reminded (again) by their government not to take advantage of individuals stuck at home with nothing to do during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Sport, Tourism and Heritage Nigel Huddleston issued letters to the CEOs of Bet365, Flutter Entertainment, GVC Holdings, The Stars Group’s Sky Betting & Gaming and William Hill, regarding efforts to “safeguard online gamblers” during the current lockdown period.

Huddleston, who was himself the recipient of a letter this month from MPs demanding tighter gambling controls, said he wanted responsible gambling messaging to be “given more prominence” in operators’ marketing “across all channels.” This should be done through “larger text, a longer appearance, or other techniques” that complement existing messaging.

Huddleston (pictured) told the operators that the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) would be sending a “data request” for “up-to-date information and granular detail on gambling habits and potential harms” for gambling customers. Huddleston warned operators that “fulfilling this request comprehensively and quickly should be a priority for your organizations.”

Huddleston also wants details on how operators expect to meet their new responsible gambling funding commitments “in the face of decreasing gambling revenues” following the mass suspension of sports and racing events.

Huddleston offered a not-so-subtle reminder that betting operators are currently enjoying payroll protection and business rates relief, saying he was “very pleased that the government’s measures have helped protect your businesses.” Huddleston added that he was “sure you agree that it is also a crucial time for us to work together to protect people from gambling harm.”

There is fresh evidence that operators have gotten the message regarding responsible gambling funding, as the GambleAware charity reported this week that contributions in its most recent fiscal year have topped (albeit just barely) the £10m mark, the first time that operators have met their targeted level of contributions.

GambleAware said donations pledged and received by the gambling industry hit £10.05m in the 12 months ending March 31, beating the £9.6m received in fiscal 2018-19 and a new record. GambleAware also receives separate funding via a share of the fines imposed on gambling operators by the UKGC, of which GambleAware received £1.44m in 2019-20.

That penalty-related funding included £600k and £690k from online casino operators LeoVegas and Gamesys, respectively, plus £155k from online gambling technology supplier Playtech. That last sum is the only one added during the last six months, and it’s currently unclear what red lines Playtech crossed to deserve a spanking.

UK-licensed MansionBet may be the next operator to be cutting the UKGC a large check after the Guardian reported that the company allowed a laid-off worker to use a redundancy payout to justify his placing large wagers on the site.

The UKGC’s guidance to its licensees warns them to be wary of any customer whose gambling activity spikes as the result of a financial windfall. The gambler in question reportedly recorded a call with his Mansion VIP manager saying the company didn’t really want to force the gambler to disclose the source of his finances “but we have to do it because the UK gambling regulators make us do it.”

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), which represents the UK’s major players, used its official Twitter feed to distance itself from MansionBet, saying the company was “not a BGC member” and highlighted the BGC’s recent work with the UKGC on enhanced due diligence for VIP programs.

The BGC also pushed back against a Sunday Times report alleging that UK betting firms were “targeting former gamblers stuck at home” via emails and social media pitches for free bet offers. The BGC said its members would never target anyone who’d registered for the GAMSTOP self-exclusion program, while claiming that such tactics were “prevalent in illegal black market” operators. The BGC also invited/dared “campaigners with evidence of direct targeting” to inform the UKGC.