Online gambling firms warned to stick to stricter guidelines during lockdown
Online gambling firms have been warned that they must follow stricter guidance on customer protection while Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are in place.
However, Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur has told operators that he believes the sector is on the right track to make Britain "the safest place in the world to gamble".
The industry regulator introduced new rules in May including tightening rules around affordability checks, the prevention of reverse withdrawals and restrictions on bonus offers in response to evidence it claimed showed some people were potentially at greater risk of harm due to lockdown.
McArthur said: "For some consumers, the start of lockdown saw them gambling online for the first time, while others tried new online products such as virtual sports or higher risk games. This was why we moved swiftly to address the risks we saw and why we introduced new guidance to help reduce the risk of gambling harm.
"However, I want to be clear once again that those guidelines are unchanged. With two more weeks of restriction measures facing us, consumer protection and responsible marketing continues to be of paramount importance."
McArthur said he believed the new guidance was making an impact.
He added: "The fact that operators have kept consumer protection at the top of their agendas through this tough period is a strong sign we are on the right track to making Great Britain the safest place in the world to gamble."
McArthur echoed those themes on Wednesday in his annual briefing to more than a hundred senior industry executives and chief executives.
He was also speaking on the eve of the start of Safer Gambling Week, which Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher marked by saying the industry was committed to safer gambling "not for one week but for all year round".
Covid-19 restrictions have meant hundreds of betting shops are closed during the campaign, but the event's strapline – 'Let's Talk About Safer Gambling' – will still feature prominently online and in those venues which have escaped the restrictions.
Dugher said: "Safer Gambling Week is incredibly important, but safer gambling should not be seen by anyone as simply something we support for one week of the year – it is a commitment for every week of the year."
He added: "The various lockdowns across the UK will inevitably mean that Safer Gambling Week 2020 will be different from those which have gone before, but its central theme remains as important as ever and will still be heard loud and clear."
Dugher outlined the "huge strides" already made by the body in areas such as gambling advertising, ID and age verification checks and increased funding for research, education and treatment.
He went on: "But we are eager to go further – and look forward to working with the government on the Gambling Review to introduce further changes that ensure that the millions of people who enjoy an occasional flutter do so enjoyably and safely."
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