The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has pledged to use record-breaking fines to help tackle problem gambling during the COVID-19 crisis.
Off the back of regulatory action against Betway and Caesars Entertainment, the British regulator is taking a proactive approach to prevention.
With more people betting online during the current lockdown, it’s given GambleAware £9 million/$11 million. The money will be used by the problem gambling charity to withstand “additional pressures” caused by COVID-19.
Consumers Require Different Support During Lockdown
News of the bonus payment came via a press release issued today. The funds will bolster the current support network and help develop new methods of delivery suitable for the current lockdown and similar scenarios in the future.
“[The money] will help to address any increase in demand for such services, support the move of services to alternative models of delivery (such as online), and will build resilience in the treatment and support system during a period of uncertainty,” reads the release.
The UKGC previously warned that coronavirus lockdowns could lead to a spike in gambling-related harm. In a statement addressed to licensees, chairman Neil McArthur said all involved have to be mindful of the “vulnerable” at this time.
The message is one the UKGC has been pushing hard for the last two years. However, two British barristers believe the current dynamics could result in overregulation. In a brief issued on April 8, Richard Littler QC and Ian Whitehurst from Exchange Chambers said the coronavirus crisis may lead to more fines.
While few would argue that regulatory standards are important, the legal experts are fearful levies could get out of control.
“The principal concern for the gambling industry in the medium term is if the Commission begins to lobby for greater powers to impose penalties more commensurate with a company’s turnover (not profit),” reads the brief.
Littler and Whitehurst are also of the opinion that fines could be used to help fill HM Treasury’s coffers. Money from the gambling industry won’t completely balance the books after the coronavirus has passed, but it could help.
UKGC Fines Come with Legal Warning
We reached out to the UKGC for a reaction to the brief but didn’t receive a reply. The commission’s latest move, however, suggests money from fines is being put to good use.
The real issue for Littler and Whitehurst is that the UKGC may decide to “flex” more muscle than it has before. That, in turn, could result in operators being hit with more fines.
It’s clearly a delicate balancing act. The UKGC acts in the interests of consumers and licensees. Over the last decade, it’s become known internationally as one of the best at fulfilling its mission.
Its latest pledge will only bolster that reputation. However, with this year’s fines already topping 2019’s overall total, there are those that feel the balance of power may be tipping in an unfavorable direction.