Gambling Commission Guidance
The Gambling Commission has released new guidance acknowledging the increased challenges that businesses in the industry are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance explicitly reminds licensees that:
- they are expected to follow Public Health guidance;
- they should assess their ability for continued compliance with their relevant licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP) and consider voluntary partial or full suspension of their offerings if full compliance is not possible;
- those operating online must continue to act responsibly during a period where more users are likely to accessing their services from home;
- licence applications remain a priority, however any documentation should be emailed or scanned to the licensee’s Account Manager and not sent by post; and
- the Commission is unable to reduce fees or fast track applications.
The guidance also makes clear that although staff across the Gambling Commission will be working remotely and responses may be subject to delays, they can still be contacted for specific guidance.
Impact of COVID-19 on the gambling sector
In a similar story to many other industries, gambling businesses have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 epidemic and subsequent governmental responses. Companies owning large casinos or chains of retail locations are the most acutely affected, but with many major live sporting events being cancelled or postponed, online operators (particularly betting apps) are also having to adapt. Many are launching new betting pools related to politics or TV shows or leaning on smaller unaffected international events (rugby, horse racing, table tennis), esports, and daily-fantasy trade.
It’s worth noting that casinos and gambling clubs were specifically excluded from the UK Government’s 11 March announcement that they would make all retail, leisure and hospitality businesses exempt from paying business rates for 12 months. Retail betting shops will likewise be unable to benefit as they have been classified as financial, rather than leisure, services.
Despite the loss of revenue streams that is likely to result from the pandemic, those in the gambling industry should continue to act responsibly and may face criticism or even increased restrictions as the crisis evolves. This is particularly true for remote gambling services which are not dependent on live sporting events and which may see an uplift in users and frequency of use as the nation looks for new forms of entertainment that can be enjoyed from the comfort of their living rooms. On 22 March, a cross-party group of MPs examining gambling-related harms wrote an open letter to the Betting & Gaming Council (“BGC”) to urge the industry to protect customers’ wellbeing. They have suggested that the industry self-imposes a daily limit of £50 per customer and places a ban on opening multiple accounts to show that it is willing to act responsibly.
The industry will need to continue to adapt and innovate in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and ensure compliance with legislation and guidance at a time when they may face increased scrutiny. The BGC has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer urging the Government to provide gambling retailers with business rates relief and take other measures to help ease the industry through the crisis. In positive news, industry titan Bet365 has guaranteed the jobs of its 4,389 employees until the end of August, but it remains to be seen if other companies will follow suit.