European Gaming Lawyer magazine EGL_Spring2017_opt - Page 25

As many will have noticed, the common theme amongst these ongoing investigations is treatment of the consumer. Since the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act in October 2015, there has been an increased focus on industries that are deemed not to be at the frontline of consumer protection, and the gaming industry is fi rmly amongst them. Th e reasons for this are readily apparent. According to the Advertising Standards Authority, remote operators are routinely amongst the top ten worst off enders for spamming and last year, the Commission received over 40,000 emails and nearly 37,000 phone-calls from the public concerning the activities of gambling-related companies, representing “well over 300% [increase] on the last two years”. Th e infl ux of complaints has not gone unnoticed, and the Commission is now insisting that the sector does more to put the consumer fi rst. It has been instrumental in working with DCMS, the CMA and the ICO in their respective investigations and, in her recent public addresses, CEO Sarah Harrison has repeatedly told operators that consumer protection should be their priority. In particular, at the Raising Standards conference in November last year, Harrison suggested that, although the sector is moving in the right direction, the pace of change needed to quicken to bring it into line with consumer-facing businesses in, for example, the fi nancial services and retail sectors. Her core message was that organisations need to take steps now to prevent events akin to the banking crisis and the Volkswagen emissions scandal occurring and damaging public trust. As Harrison put it: “Don’t wait for a crisis to happen that shakes the very foundation of customers’ trust in your industry: act now and demonstrate to consumers that your interest in their needs is genuine”. So, what needs to be done? Th e Commission’s message is that, ultimately, the industry needs to increase the trust and confi dence that consumers have in gaming. Not only should customers be able to get the best prices and the best experience gambling online, but they should also be well informed, treated fairly and kept safe - in particular those who are vulnerable to the risks and realities of gambling-related harm. In order to achieve this, the Commission has advised licensees to assess, amongst other things: their social responsibility, how fairly they are treating customers and their anti- money laundering practices. 1. Social responsibility Th e Commission wants the sector to review its social responsibilities and take measures to achieve them. At last year’s Responsible Gambling Trust conference, Harrison set out fi ve initiatives that the Commission would look for from the sector: • Clarity of purpose – is the work operators are doing on social responsibility aimed at preventing harm – or just dealing with it where it is already occurring? • Evaluation – how will sector assess the impact of measures and share fi ndings? • Added value – are operators doing the minimum, or taking their responsibilities further? • Customer focus – are businesses considering every aspect of the customer journey? • Transparency – will operators take stakeholders with them, and be open about the inputs to their work, as well as the conclusions and actions? 2. Treating customers fairly Th e Commission wants licensees to move focus away from the bottom line and take a more customer-focussed approach. Th e infl ux in customer complaints over the past 12 months demonstrates that there are serious issues to be addressed and, although some of these issues will be considered during the DCMS, CMA and ICO investigations, the Commission wants to see the sector step up and drive standards now. A further review of current practices and requirements with regard to complaint processes is also planned, so operators would be well advised to take a proactive stance and ensure adequate policies and procedures are in place before the review commences later this year. 3. Money laundering Money laundering has been an area of concern in the sector for years. However, Harrison revealed that the Commission’s recent casework into AML standards showed “a lack of curiosity, and at worst, a leadership culture which puts commercial gain over compliance”. Th e Commission therefore wants licensees to adopt a more risk-based approach and stop waiting until a source of funds is proven to be illegal before taking action. Sharpening the regulatory toolkit In order to regulate existing licensees more eff ectively and reprimand entities that knowingly fl aunt the licensing objectives, the Commission is consulting on proposed changes to its enforcement strategy. Th e consultation paper European Gaming Lawyer | Spring Issue | 2017 | 25