DCMS to monitor gambling habits during coronavirus pandemic

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports has called for leading operators to do more during the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) has written to the UK’s leading gambling operators calling for regular updates on player behaviour patterns during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gambling operators including Bet365, William Hill, Flutter Entertainment, GVC Holdings and Sky Betting and Gaming, as well as the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), have been asked to provide the DCMS with internal data around the online gambling habits for UK customers who are currently in lockdown.

This news comes after the UK government announced it would extend the lockdown for an additional three weeks on April 16 to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

The DCMS letter

In the letter, Minister for sport, tourism and heritage Nigel Huddleston reminded operators of their responsibilities and encouraged the industry to take extra steps to protect consumers during this time of “heightened risk.” Gambling operators have been advised to make their safer gambling messaging more prominent in marketing material across TV, radio, print media and online.

Huddleston’s letter comes after the BGC announced measures adopted by members to protect customers during the coronavirus pandemic. These involved operators committing to make safer gambling messaging more prominent in advertising and signposting links to services such as the National Gambling Helpline.

The Minister explained that the DCMS had taken the action after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) reported an increase in gambling-related complaints since the coronavirus pandemic placed the UK on lockdown. The DCMS also requested more details from the ASA on the scale of these complaints.

Huddleston stated that the information provided by the ASA and the gambling industry would allow the DCMS and the Gambling Commission to make a full assessment of the impact the current situation in the country will have on gambling habits. This will the department to identify new risks, determine whether operators are taking appropriate action to address these and whether the current voluntary measures are effective in preventing gambling-related harms.

The DCMS said: “Although there is no firm evidence at this stage, there are concerns that the current social distancing measures could lead to an increase in problem gambling online with people in lockdown and internet usage up.”

Huddleston said: “As we stay at home and spend more time online, it is vital that no stone is left unturned in protecting people from gambling-related harm. Whilst overall gambling participation has fallen in recent weeks and the industry has made notable contributions to support the national response, we must take proactive steps now, and keep these measures under review.

“I expect patterns of play to be closely monitored so we can move quickly if there is any evidence of problem gambling increasing. I also want more to be done to promote responsible gambling during the pandemic.”

Responsible gambling in the UK

This news comes as the UK gambling industry has placed a stronger emphasis on responsible gambling in the country.

Last week, the Gambling Commission’s ban on using credit cards to fund gambling activity came into effect. The ban was announced in January by the Gambling Commission and the DCMS.

Earlier this month, the Gambling Commission’s working groups announced new measures to help reduce gambling-related harm in the UK. As part of a series of voluntary reforms, gamblers under 25-years-old will be banned from joining gambling VIP schemes in the UK while those who can join the schemes will be subject to new controls.

Operator reward schemes will also be required to undergo full audit trails detailing the operator’s decision making while specifying senior management oversight and accountability.

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