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Volume: 16 Issue: 5
(May 2017)

Keywords:
gb commissions recent action illustrates enforcement drive 888 holdings plc confirmed great british gambling commission currently conducting review manner subsidiary

Jurisdictions:
UK

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GB Commission’s recent action illustrates enforcement drive

888 Holdings plc confirmed that the Great British Gambling Commission is currently conducting a review into the manner in which a subsidiary of the company has carried out its licensed activities relating to social responsibility measures employed concerning customers including, amongst other things, the effectiveness of self-exclusion tools adopted across different operating platforms, reads a statement on its website dated 15 May 2017.

The Commission’s review aims to ascertain whether the company is in compliance with the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (‘LCCP’), which require gambling operators to put into effect procedures for self-exclusion and take all reasonable steps to refuse service or prevent an individual who has entered a self-exclusion agreement from participating in gambling. The LCCP also requires that those businesses curb marketing activities towards self-excluded customers, close any customer accounts relating to individuals who have entered a self-exclusion agreement, and put procedures in place to ensure self-excluded customers cannot gain access to gambling.

“Given the considerable emphasis over the last two years on tightening up pre-existing self-exclusion requirements under the LCCP and publicity given since February 2015 to the forthcoming national online self-exclusion scheme, many will have shared my surprise that an experienced operator such as 888 has found itself on the receiving end of an operating licence review in relation to, amongst other things, the effectiveness of its self-exclusion tools across different operating platforms,” said David Clifton, Director at Clifton Davies Consultancy Limited. The 888 subsidiary review emphasises the increasing focus by the Commission on consumer protection, minimising gambling-related harm and operators’ social responsibility obligations. 

The Commission’s 2017/18 business plan, which was published on 6 April 2017, outlining its priorities for the next financial year, includes a strong emphasis on social responsibility, placing the consumer at the heart of regulation and rebuilding consumer trust in the industry. The milestones outlined by the Commission include the commitment to work with industry to develop guidelines for evaluating the impact of Multi Operator Self-Exclusion Schemes to assess whether the approach should be broadened to help industry assess the impact of other social responsibility measures introduced in the LCCP; to carry out a review into how the industry identifies, and intervenes to assist, players that are at risk of being harmed by gambling; and to examine data, market trends, consumer participation and action by operators on social responsibility and crime in the remote market. 

CEO Sarah Harrison states in the foreword to the business plan, which also invites stakeholders to contribute to help shape a three-year corporate strategy that will be published in Autumn 2017, that the Commission will use “the full range of powers more effectively through a revised enforcement policy, recognising that rigorous enforcement can also help drive up standards,” whilst continuing to “focus on emerging markets and products where they create risk for consumers.”

The Commission also published its decision notice relating to the £300,000 fine issued against BGO Entertainment Ltd in April for misleading advertising published on the operator’s website and that of three of its affiliate websites. The statement posted on the Commission’s website on 2 May 2017 relating to the enforcement action encourages all operators to read the decision notice which according to the Commission emphasises the importance of operators understanding and applying the rules relating to gambling advertisements, and taking responsibility for the actions of third parties such as affiliates, by making sure that marketing material they use is not misleading.

“What is surprising is that BGO’s marketing and advertising, on both its own website and the websites of third parties with which it contracted, repeatedly continued to infringe LCCP requirements for 15 months after the Commission had first identified failings, including for three months when it failed to follow recommendations in a CAP Copy Advice Audit that it had commissioned itself,” explains Clifton. When asked what the action means for operators, Clifton adds that more of the same type of criticism should be anticipated from the Competition and Markets Authority’s online gambling investigation and that operators should expect a licence review under the Commission’s new tougher enforcement regime if marketing communications on free bet, bonus and other offers fail to comply with advertising rules. 

“It’s clear that BGO’s failure to take prompt and effective action to address the issues identified exacerbated its offence,” add Chris Boylan and Susan Biddle of Kemp Little. “There have been some other interesting ASA decisions recently as regards advertising in the industry, notably Ladbrokes’ successful appeal in relation to its ‘Iron Man’ advert, when its argument that it had successfully excluded under-18s from recipients was accepted. This contrasts with the recent FX-Pro decision (in relation to spread betting) when the ASA concluded that an ad had particular appeal to students and was irresponsible regardless of any pre-vetting of recipients. The fact that gambling features in so many of these ASA reports indicates, at the least, that advertising of gambling is still a concern to consumers, and to regulators - so we would expect to see it continue to be a focus for the Commission.”

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