U.K. GAMBLING COMMISSION IS KEEPING AN EYE ON E-SPORTS
CEO sees "real challenges" in GBP400 million-a-year skin gambling market.
The UK Gambling Commission is monitoring the burgeoning, GBP 400 million-a-year eSports market and will not hesitate to use its powers to the full in stamping out any unlicensed and illegal gambling, the chief executive of the regulator, Sarah Harrison (50) said in a weekend interview with the publication This Is Money.
‘This is a very significant market and one we’re quite focused on,’ she said. "Is there a risk of it being attractive to or played by young people? We are seeing real challenges here and will use our powers to the full, including taking criminal action where we see betting and gambling that isn’t licensed."
Harrison outlined several ways in which the Commission has the power to act, including: a host of ways she is homing in on irresponsible gambling firms including:
* Tougher sanctions for firms that repeatedly fail to act responsibly and comply with regulations;
* Recommending Government reviews on gambling laws;
* Shrinking maximum stakes on gambling;
* Encouraging more cash and action from the industry to tackle addiction.
The article notes that eSports is already generating prize money in the millions, and that reputable professional business services company Deloitte Global has predicted that the vertical will generate global revenue of $500 million (GBP 400million) in 2016…and gambling on the results of competitions is growing and will soon have a value equal to that of the industry itself.
This Is Money reminds readers that the Commission has teeth and in recent times has been active in disciplining the gambling industry with fines on National Lottery operator Camelot (GBP 300,000), Betfred (GBP 800,000), Gala Coral (GBP846,000) and Paddy Power (GBP280,000) for compliance failures ranging from anti-money laundering to social responsibility.
"Our job in law is to permit gambling, but make sure it is fair, safe for consumers and free of crime," Harrison said. "Recently we’ve had five investigations, all resulting in penalties and the firms conducting external audits of their processes.
"They’ve had to stand up in front of their peers and say what they’ve learnt. If we find there are firms who repeat mistakes they can expect tougher sanctions."
Harrison revealed that the Commission is currently considering whether its sanctions are tough enough in terms of imposing fines, launching criminal actions and suspending or revoking licenses…and she says the Commission will use all the powers at its disposal to ensure consumer protection.
She singled out fixed odds betting terminals in retail betting shops as an area of public concern, and indicated that she would welcome an urgent government review, commenting that punters lost GBP1.7 billion to the machines last year, and that the main growth lies in Vegas-style slot games that allow a maximum bet of GBP 2, but the spins are faster.
"To focus on stake size alone is unlikely to be a silver bullet. We’d like all options on the table, including further stake reduction. Our goal is to reduce harm related to gambling and look at it from every mode of gambling – machines, online, casinos, everywhere," Harrison said.
“It’s an issue. We want to get intervention tested and see what works."
Harrison is critical of the industry regarding its problem gambling-related funding, revealing that in 2015 the industry spent GBP 6.5million on research, education and treatment under the voluntary scheme, against GBP 120 million on TV advertising, opining: "That can’t be right.”
The Commission also regulates the online gambling sector of the industry, which Harrison said accounts for 30 percent of the UK market. This presents both challenges and opportunities, she said, noting that online operators can look at patterns of play, see if problems are building and act.
"We’ve put in obligations for operators to provide regular opportunities for people to set time limits and other such tools so power is back in the hands of the players," she explained.
The article includes a few personal details on the regulator: she has two daughters and lives in London, commuting to her office in Birmingham. She has been in the job for less than a year, joining from Ofgem (government regulator for gas and electricity markets ) and prior to that Icstis, the regulator of premium rate phone lines.
Read the full interview here: