A year in the life of the British regulator: Rising costs, expanding reach and not everything is exactly what it

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While the British model is frequently lauded as the way forward for gaming regulation, the UK’s gaming industry takes a more critical view of its regulator, calling out its high-handed treatment of operators and failure to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the sector. In an article originally published in our sister title Coinslot, Ken Scott reads between the lines of the Gambling Commission’s Annual Report and sees a regulator in real need of a change of perspective.

The Gambling Commission’s 2017-18 Annual Report is a meaty read. Not a classic, mind you – if it were a film, Rotten Tomatoes would probably give it a 5.5 out of 10 for its glossy, shiny, happy, clappy, carefully selected crowd in all the pictures. Others would probably throw their rotten tomatoes at it.

But you do so at your peril. The UK regulator is a canny body; in 92 pages it’s defined its credentials and put out the feelers to its most important stakeholders. And,the gambling industry isn’t among those feeling that particular love.

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This is a report to study very carefully, and we should take a look at a couple of reasons why.

Let’s start with the obvious soft spot. No-one ever thought that regulation would be cheap. But the Gambling Commission’s Report shows just how expensive it can be.

Reasonably so? Well, many reading the report will find an overspend and an over-reach without much effort. A million here, a million there – in truth, the industry has become accustomed to rising costs in regulation and falling income through the cash box.

But,everyone will slate the costs, that’s to be expected – it’s an annual sport surrounding the GC’s finances, and who doesn’t like indulging in a bit of regulator bash- ing every now and again?

No, it’s not the figures that should concern; it’s the posturing. It’s the terms, the tone, and the absence of a meaningful dialogue with the industry.
That isn’t so sporting. In fact, some of it simply isn’t cricket.
From chairman William Moye introduction,through new CEO Neil McArthur’s report and in and between every line,there’s the prevailing message that the industry is the enemy.

The language and the tone is all geared to a divide. “Protection is our main concern…”Not their area of responsibility but their concern. The phrasing has already set the battlelines – it’s a concern, a crisis, we’re worried, we need to sort it.

It’s almost a Trump tactic. Set the tone, reinforce the same words and let the emotions do the rest. “The industry needs to understand”, “large increase in funding”,“other measures are necessary.”

And so it goes – through 92 pages. There is,of course,the reverse interpretation if you really want to play the tit-for-tat game.Given that the miserable panorama the report paints has happened on the GC’s watch – one could ask how bad must our regulator be?

No. Neither the industry is the enemy, nor the regulator is ineffectual are truths. Both are fake news as Mr Trump likes to misappropriate.

The real truth is the industry is working hard at meeting its SR obligations, while the GC is fulfilling an effective – though many would characterise it as proscriptive – regulatory role.

And yet,in all the beating of its chest, the GC did not make one single reference to ‘building partnerships’ with the gaming and gambling industry.In fact,everyone else but the industry.

If the Commission is guilty of one thing,it’s its failure to engage the industry and bring it on side.

So here we have a regulator with operational costs up 11 percent; salaries up 10 percent; five employees in the £110-190,000 range; an almost absent reference to its out of kilter stance on FOBT stakes. All stats featured in the GC report.But they’re not emblazoned, coloured and highlighted like ‘2 million at risk gamblers’, 430,000 problem gamblers.

No,these specific statistics – highlighted to infer blame on ‘the enemy’- are sent by Exocet to the reader – designed to fire straight off the page – with just the tiny small print asterix health warning saying: “This is a GB level estimate taken from our first combined Health Survey report Gambling behaviour in Great Britain in 2015.Care should be taken comparing against previous problem gambling data which is not directly comparable.”

Care indeed.

Three years ago? That’s a hell of a long time for a regulator, so obsessed with accurate evidence, to hold on to. It’s not as if more recent telephone surveys have actually proved this figure to be inaccurate. Oh,hold on, the GC have done this.

Despite the gripes – and there are plenty when you are automatically put on the enemy list – it’s a great report for the Commission,a report it absolutely had to do because, well that’s it’s duty of care.

But at the same time, it’s a report that just serves to confirm that not everything is what it seems.

In his closing comment, CEO Neil McArthur said: “It is vital we hold ourselves to the same high standards we expect of others.”

One might suggest the GC starts with a fair representation of the industry and a meaningful attempt to build partnerships and understanding.

They just need to read page 23 of their own Annual Report.


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