Games and gambling regulatory activity in the UK - 2020 roundup

Hits: 778

The Gambling Commission has focused heavily on safety this year, particularly during lockdown given fears it would lead to a rise in problem gambling. Enforcement also focused on failures to prevent gambling harm and lack of transparency. Read our latest articles on the games and gambling industries here.

UK government initiatives

Government response to DCMS Committee report on immersive and addictive technologies

In June, the government has published its response to the DCMS select committee report on immersive and addictive technologies. The government says it:

  • will support new and additional video games research but is unlikely to require the video games industry to pay for it
  • wants age ratings from physical copies of games applied to online video games and will consider legislating on this if it is not done voluntarily
  • will release a full response to the new online harms regulator
  • will launch a call for evidence on loot boxes (see below) to examine links to gambling-like behaviour and excessive in-game spending, using the results alongside a review of the Gambling Act
  • will bring forward a ministerial roundtable with esports stakeholders to discuss how the industry is working and can work in future, and encourage best practice in terms of player well-being and esports integrity
  • will closely monitor the technology used to manipulate audio and video content including 'deepfakes'.

Call for evidence on loot boxes

In September, the government issued a call for evidence as part of its consultation on loot boxes. The call is targeted at two groups with separate questions for each of: games players and adults responsible for children and young people who play video games; and video games businesses and researchers and organisations interested in video games and loot boxes.

Review of Gambling Act 2005

In December, the government announced the long-expected review of the Gambling Act 2005 (GA), kicking off with a call for evidence. The review is intended to:

  • Look at whether changes are needed to the GA as a result of technical advances and other changes to the gambling landscape since 2005
  • Ensure there is a balance between consumer choice and prevention of harm
  • Ensure customers are suitably protected form harm and there is an equitable approach to online and land-based industries.

The review will focus in particular on:

  • Protection of online gamblers
  • The positive and negative impacts of advertising and marketing of gambling products and brands
  • The effectiveness of the regulatory system including enforcement powers
  • The availability of redress for customers who feel they've been unfairly treated by operators
  • The effectiveness of age controls and age limitations
  • The results of the call for evidence on loot boxes
  • Protection of vulnerable customers, children, young people and young adults.

The initial call for evidence will be open for a 16 week period.

Gambling Commission activity

Gambling Commission ban on gambling with credit cards

The Gambling Commission banned gambling businesses from allowing consumers in Great Britain to gamble using credit from 14 April 2020. Online gambling operators must also participate in the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme GAMSTOP which allows consumers to self-exclude across operators with a single request.

Initiatives on gambling safety

In April, we discussed the safety initiatives announced by the Gambling Commission across three industry working groups, to improve gambling safety as well as COVID-related measures. In October, the Gambling Commission issued guidance for operators on running VIP schemes to ensure there is no irresponsible incentivisation of high value customers.

Gambling Commission partners with Facebook on guidance to limit gambling ads

The Gambling Commission and Facebook have created guidance to help users limit the number of gambling-related ads they see on the platform. The Gambling Commission worked on similar guidance for Twitter users.

Gambling Commission consultation on stronger measures to protect online customers

In November the Gambling Commission began consulting on stronger requirements on online operators to identify consumers who may be at risk of gambling harm and to then interact and take action to prevent those harms. It is particularly interested in views on procedures to assess whether a customer's gambling is affordable set against thresholds defined by the Commission including what the thresholds should be and how affordability assessments should be carried out. It also plans to introduce new social responsibility requirements into its licence conditions and to replace existing guidance on customer interaction.

Gambling Commission National Strategic Assessment and annual Compliance and Enforcement Report

Also in November, the Gambling Commission published its first National Strategic Assessment. The National Strategic Assessment uses evidence from a wide range of sources and case studies to assess the issues and risks gambling presents to consumers and the public. It sets out the Commission's priority actions to address them and highlights areas where progress has been made. The report will be used as a foundation for the Commission's work over the coming months and years which will include working with the government on its review of the Gambling Act.

Enforcement

Among the enforcement activity by the Gambling Commission this year:

  • In March gambling operator Mr Green was fined £3m by the Gambling Commission for failure to have effective procedures aimed at preventing harm and money laundering.
  • Betway was fined £11.6m and required to implement a package of measures after the Commission found a series of social responsibility and money laundering failings connected to seven of its high spending customers.
  • Two online operators also had their licences removed for failure to integrate with the self-exclusion scheme GAMSTOP. One of the suspensions has since been lifted but investigations continue.

More information on enforcement activity is detailed in the Commission's annual Compliance and Enforcement report.

CAP and ASA

Marketing eSports

In May, CAP issued an Advice Notice which sets out how to comply with advertising rules when marketing eSports related gambling on social media. It applies to gambling marketing on all social media platforms. The advice does not introduce new requirements but applies existing rules, in particular under Section 16 of the CAP Code, to marketing of gambling on eSports including by influencers and affiliates. It is a useful summary/checklist as a result.

CAP and BCAP consultation on strengthened rules to protect children, under-18s and vulnerable people from gambling-advertising related harms

CAP and BCAP began consulting on proposals to strengthen rules and update guidance on advertising gambling to better protect children, young people (under-18s) and vulnerable people in October. Proposals centre around prohibiting creative content of gambling and lotteries ads from appealing 'strongly' (rather than particularly) to under-18s rather than adults.

CAP and BCAP consult on guidance for advertising in-game purchases

CAP and BCAP opened a consultation on formal guidance on advertising in-game purchases including loot boxes. The guidance will address relevant existing rules in the context of in-game purchases, including by covering pricing information at the point of purchase, the language and approaches used to advertise in-game purchases (and the games they appear in), and the use of in-game purchased items in ads for games. The consultation closes on 28 January 2021.

Ad breached CAP Code

Coral was been found to have breached the CAP Code when captioning a link to a video ad with the words 'Have another go'. The ad was for a campaign allowing a free bet where a customer's horse failed to finish. It also featured a man looking dejected after the fall of the horse and then happy when he is able to 'have another go'. While the ASA agreed the promotion did not oblige consumers to have a further bet or use additional funds to do so, the caption and the video gave the impression that the decision to gamble had been taken lightly and the ad was therefore likely to encourage some customers to take up the offer repeatedly. For that reason, the ASA considered the ad was likely to encourage gambling behaviour that was potentially harmful and therefore breached the CAP Code.

Betway ad featuring an under-25 year old football player

A YouTube video on Betway's channel featuring West Ham footballer Declan Rice, was found to breach the CAP Code because the player is under 25. The video featured a prank on Rice in which an actor pretended to clamp Rice's car. Various protagonists were wearing West Ham shirts featuring Betway. Betway argued they did not consider the video to be an advert but said it was editorial content. The ASA disagreed and said the video breached the rule that under-25s cannot play a significant role in marketing communications on social media.

EGBA Code of Conduct

The European Gambling and Betting Association released a new Code of Conduct on data protection in online gambling. The Code introduces specific measures and best practices on a range of GDPR compliance issues. The Code is being submitted to the Maltese data protection supervisor for approval that it is GDPR compliant, a process which could take 18 months to two years. All EGBA members will have to adhere to the Code which is also open to other online gambling companies licensed in the EU/EEA. Compliance will be monitored by an independent third party. Read more.

Taylor Wessing - Debbie Heywood