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Neil McArthur in surprise exit as chief executive of the Gambling Commission

Neil McArthur: has left the Gambling Commission after 15 years with the regulator
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The turmoil surrounding the under-fire Gambling Commission has increased with the surprise resignation of chief executive Neil McArthur on Monday.

McArthur's departure, which has taken place with immediate effect, comes with the government having begun a wide-ranging review of the gambling sector which includes the future of the industry regulator itself.

The news raises questions about what action the Gambling Commission will take over affordability checks following its consultation which closed last month, an issue which has caused huge concern in both the betting and racing industries.

The commission is also in the midst of a process for awarding the fourth UK National Lottery licence, while it has been accused of a failure of regulation over the collapse last week of Football Index.

However, McArthur's exit from the commission is understood not to be linked to the Football Index case.

McArthur said: "I am proud of everything the Gambling Commission has achieved during my 15 years with the organisation. We have taken significant steps forward to make gambling fairer and safer, and I know that I leave the organisation in a strong position to meet its future challenges.

"With a review of the Gambling Act under way, now feels the right time to step away and allow a new chief executive to lead the commission on the next stage in its journey."

The Gambling Commission has been criticised over the collapse of Football Index

McArthur, who had previously been the commission's chief counsel and executive director, took over as acting chief executive when Sarah Harrison left the organisation at the end of February 2018, before taking over the role permanently two months later.

During his time, the Gambling Commission took action in a number of areas, including banning the use of credit cards for gambling and increased penalties for operators who had broken rules.

It has, however, come under increasing fire from critics. Last year the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee described it as a "torpid, toothless regulator", while the National Audit Office said the commission was "unlikely to be fully effective in addressing risks and harms to consumers" due to a number of issues, including funding.

The commission said it would shortly begin the process of recruiting an interim chief executive which would allow the successor to current chairman Bill Moyes, whose term of office ends later this year, to appoint a permanent chief executive. 

Moyes said: "On behalf of the board I would like to thank Neil for his many years of commitment and service to the Gambling Commission. A lot has been achieved during his time here and Neil can rightly feel proud of the organisation’s progress during his tenure as chief executive."

Deputy chief executive Sarah Gardner and chief operating officer Sally Jones have jointly taken over the duties of acting chief executive.

Comment: McArthur's departure only increases uncertainty

The uncertainty surrounding the future of the gambling sector has become even greater with the shock news of Neil McArthur's resignation as head of the industry regulator.

The commission is hardly rudderless, deputy chief executive Sarah Gardner has been with the organisation since 2009, but for this to happen while the government is in the middle of a review of gambling laws, and with renewed scrutiny due to the Football Index collapse, the timing is hardly ideal.

British racing's leaders will also be watching the consequences of McArthur's resignation closely.

The commission's consultation on remote customer interaction, which closed just a few weeks ago, could pre-empt the findings of the government's review by bringing in controversial affordability checks, a move figures in the sport have warned could cost up to £100 million in lost income from the levy and media rights annually.

There will be many hoping McArthur's exit will mean the checks are kicked into the long grass, or at least swept up by the government's review.

Gambling Commission chairman Bill Moyes is also set to leave later this year, which could bolster those hopes, but there will also be concerns that the changes could be rushed through to avoid leaving them in the new leadership's in-tray.
Bill Barber, industry editor

Read more on the gambling industry:

Football Index licence suspended as clients face big losses following crash

Gambling Commission accused of 'complete failure' over Football Index storm

Owners' group calls for racing to 'avoid disaster' on affordability checks

Gambling Commission considers affordability checks evidence after huge response

Affordability checks could see some gamblers turn to black market operators

MP warns of 'devastating impact' affordability checks could have on racing

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With a review of the Gambling Act under way, now feels the right time to step away and allow a new chief executive to lead the commission
E.W. Terms