Gambling Commission’s Sarah Gardner highlights regulator’s progress on sustainable gambling in speech

The Gambling Commission’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer Sarah Gardner delivered a speech at the 2021 Bacta Annual Convention, highlighting the Commission’s progress towards a more sustainable gambling market, earlier this week.

Bacta is the trade association for the amusement and gaming machine industry in the UK.

What did Gardner say?

In her speech to the convention, Gardner said the Commission had come out from the coronavirus pandemic “more focussed than ever before on our remit to make gambling fairer, safer and crime free.” 

Before highlighting the success of the industry working groups that were established last year, she added that faster progress towards raising standards for all consumers would be achieved in partnership with the gambling industry, rather than by punishing its failings.

The partnership between the gambling industry and the UK regulator has so far helped deliver enhanced due diligence checks on high value customers, limits on slot spins and speeds, as well as age-gating for gambling adverts on social media.

Gardner said: “This is the relationship we want with industry in the pursuit of ever fairer and safer gambling. We want to get to that, we want to get to a place where the level of harm caused by gambling is reducing, helped by a constructive and collaborative relationship with industry.”

“Gambling is normal, but harm must not be”

The Commission’s Deputy Chief Executive went on to speak about the issue of reducing gambling harms.

Gardner explained that gambling “is normal”, reminding that more than 40% of the population had gambled in some form over the past month. She also reminded attendees at the convention that at over £14 billion, gambling in Great Britain is the size of British agriculture. However, this was underscored by the fact that £450 per second was lost by people gambling in Great Britain in 2019/20.

“For millions this is the cost of having a good time,” said Gardner. “But the third fact we must maintain a clear-eyed focus on is that for hundreds of thousands of people the cost is problem gambling. It is harm.”

“People suffering from financial, mental and physical harm because of either their own gambling or that of their loved ones or friends. It’s real, life-changing and can happen to anyone.”

In October, a Gambling Commission survey revealed that problem gambling levels dropped, with 0.3% of the population being classed as problem gamblers. This was down from 0.6% in September 2020. The moderate risk rate also fell from 1.2% to 0.7% over the same time frame.

Gardner added: “We cautiously welcome these numbers but it’s important to remember that these are a churning, changing group of people as well. There is nothing static about who is suffering harm. It’s also worth noting that Public Health England’s report estimated that the annual economic burden of harmful gambling is approximately £1.27 billion.”

“So gambling is normal, but harm must not be,” Gardner said. “We will continue to work to drive the levels of harm down.”

Gardner went on to explain that “far too many operators” are not abiding by the Commission’s rules, which could hinder the constructive relationship the Commission wants to build with operators. 

“These failings are not historic – they are happening now and they are causing harm,” said Gardner.

“I said earlier that the Commission is more focussed than ever before on our remit to make gambling fairer, safer and crime free and you will see that in our priorities as we go into 2022.”

Gardner touches on the Gambling Act review

Gardner also spoke on the UK government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act, stating that the white paper that will set out potential changes to regulation was “getting closer.” Gardner did not give a firm date of when this will be.

As the proposed changes approach, Gardner reiterated that the Commission’s goal is to create a single customer view for online operators. Gardner explained that this will require operators to improve the sharing of information to better protect players, while the Commission is working to ensure access to “robust, comprehensive data.”

“Further investment will be essential for the Commission to both realise the potential and manage the risks that come from regulating an industry where technology is changing all the time” she said. “However, all the investment in the world will not deliver a more effective Gambling Commission if the data we receive from operators is lacking.”