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New Customer Interaction Guidance For Betting Companies

ukgcThe United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) is responsible for laying out the rules and regulations that all online gambling operators need to follow. These laws must be followed wholly, and operators need to be ready to fall in line with any changes that the regulatory body introduces. As it happens, new laws are due to come into effect in September, which gambling businesses need to take notice of and comply with. Fortunately, the upcoming rule changes have been announced ahead of time, allowing them to make any necessary adjustments and get used to the upcoming legislation.

It was in April that the UKGC announced it would bring new rules into effect which would ensure online gambling brands do everything possible to try and both identify and enforce action to protect their customers. This is especially true of those customers who could be considered at risk. Therefore, this required an update to the consumer protection guidance, and with these new rules having already been published, the UK’s gambling companies can become accustomed to them.

The new customer protection rules will officially come into effect on September 12 of this year, although any existing guidance in place (as well as the extra guidance which was issued when the COVID-19 pandemic hit) will remain effective and available to see until that time.

It would be good to understand what is changing or being introduced for gambling companies and this is why the new rules have been published already – and we’ll be looking at the most noteworthy of the adjustments to the guidance here. Within it, changes regarding the identification of vulnerable customers, indicators of harm that gambling operators need to look out for, when automated systems and processes should be used, and the route to take to evaluate the impact of customer interactions, can be found.

Social Responsibility Code

social responsibilityAny business possessing an official licence from the UK Gambling Commission needs to ensure that they are implementing effective customer interaction systems. It should already be the case that they have certain levels of protocol in effect to do so, and they should be in place so as to stop customers from being at risk of gambling harm.

From September 12, the systems and processes need to be sure to include three specific elements of interaction with customers. Those are identify, act and evaluate. Furthermore, these processes should be utilised in an ongoing way to make sure that players are constantly checked on via interaction.

Other social responsibility rules coming into effect from that date include:

  • Licensees need to consider the factors that could make a customer more vulnerable to potentially experiencing gambling-related harm.
  • Effective systems and processes should be in place to monitor customer activity and then identify harm or potential harm, and this should be active from the moment that a person opens an online account.
  • Potential harm should be identified by licensees using a range of indicators relevant to the customer and the gambling activity they are participating in, including:
  1. Customer Spend
  2. Patterns of Spend
  3. Time Spent Gambling
  4. Gambling Behaviour Indicators
  5. Customer-Led Contact
  6. Use of Gambling Management Tools
  7. Account Indicators
  • The systems and processes utilised by a licensee should provide indication of risk of harm in a timely manner, allowing for manual intervention to take place.
  • Licensees should also take action in a timely manner in the case of problem gambling being highlighted. The action taken should be based on the number and level of indicators of harm exhibited. This could include:
  1. Tailored action at lower levels of harm indication to prevent future harm
  2. An increase in action where earlier stages have not had the desired impact
  3. Stronger action to the next step in case where it is appropriate
  4. Ensuring that marketing is reduced or prevented altogether or that the claiming of bonuses is not made available
  5. Severing the business relationship with a player, if need be
  • It is absolutely vital that gambling companies prevent marketing and the take up of new bonus offers if a strong indicator of harm has been identified in a player.
  • Licensees should take all reasonable steps to evaluate the effectiveness of their approach, and this can be done by trialling and measuring the impact of such.
  • Licensees should also take into consideration the number of customer interactions to ensure that they are falling in line with at least the minimum activity in this area.

Delving Into The Particulars

stop gambling addiction big red buttonLicensees in the UK need to ensure that they consider the factors which could lead to a customer becoming more vulnerable in relation to gambling-related harm. At the same time, they need to implement systems and processes in a timely way when indicators of vulnerability are identified. The general aim with this is to ensure that any customers who are discovered to be in a vulnerable position are supported. When an operator is aware of a customer’s vulnerable status, they need to take action.

Formal guidance dictates that when a customer is indeed in a vulnerable situation, they may be less likely to understand the risks behind continued gambling activity. Therefore, the key forms of action in this case should be to enforce prevention by setting limits with or on behalf of a customer and to be reactive when it is clear that a customer may not have understood certain terms and conditions when considering if a refund is appropriate.

Licensees need to ensure that they understand that there are many reasons why a person may be considered vulnerable. Changes to an individual’s circumstances could lead to them becoming more or less vulnerable, too. Such situations can be temporary, permanent or intermittent, and this is why constant customer interaction and checks are necessary.

The question is whether or not gambling companies are able to handle this level of interaction or not. After all, it would require them to not only be consistently on the ball but to also have enough manpower round-the-clock to handle these situations where vulnerable players are identified. This means that there would potentially need to be more people employed and additional training given so as to ensure they are aware of how to identify, act and evaluate such situations.

While the Commission does realise that licensees may not always have the relevant information at hand to identify vulnerability, it does expect its licence-holders to consider factors that could make customers more vulnerable to experiencing gambling harm, understand the risk level and take timely action to combat such.

When it comes to the implementation of effective systems and processes so as to be able to monitor customer activity when it comes to gambling harm, this would likely mean that many operators need to alter or upgrade their current systems. The aim of this is to ensure that customers can be monitored from the get-go, enabling operators to identify vulnerable players from the point at which an account is opened.

Identifying Which Indicators Are on Display

tax effect on gambling industry

Seven indicators to identify and act on vulnerable players are to be used by licensees. These are further explained below:

Time and Spend Indicators (1, 2 and 3)

The amount of money and the time that a person spends gambling, as well as the frequency of their deposits, whether they deposit and play higher amounts at set times, the time of day they engage in gambling (as a higher percentage of overnight gamblers were found to be more at risk), an increase in length of time spent gaming or an escalation in deposited amounts.

Gambling Behaviour Indicators (4)

Placing wagers on multiple products, chasing losses, particularly erratic betting routines, wagering on higher risk products/unusual markets or outcomes (such as those that are unfamiliar to a customer’s betting habits). It is common for people who participate in in-play betting to place a higher number of wagers in a shorter timeframe than those who bet in other ways. Studies have shown that the higher number of in-play wagers can be a direct indication of a customer being at risk.

Customer-Led Contact Indicators (5)

Information provided by customers or hints dropped regarding their own gambling activity, as well as frequent complaints over not winning on games or sports bets, and consistent requests for bonuses following losses. Noting the negative impact of their gambling activity is another indicator to be aware of.

Use of Gambling Management Tools (6)

If a player alters their deposit limits, has previous self-exclusions, frequently uses the time out function, refuses to utilise gambling management tools, or setting their limits so high as to not have any proper impact.

Account Indicators (7)

Any time deposits fail, if they have multiple payment methods on their account, or use pre-loaded cards and e-wallets, this could indicate that they are gambling with money that they do not actually possess.

Taking Appropriate Action

Customer SupportUpon identifying a customer that is potentially at risk of gambling harm, licensees must ensure that they act appropriately and in a timely manner. This should be done so as to minimise any further potential harm from taking hold. Not only that, but the action taken needs to be directly proportionate to harm or potential harm that has been identified. It is also important to realise when the strength of the response needs to be increased, too.

Essentially, operators need to be aware of how each individual customer likes to be contacted, so that you can better discuss their gambling activity with them. It is therefore important for all employees to be provided with essential information by operators on not only identifying vulnerable players, but on the different actions possible to take for interacting with these customers. This includes the circumstances by which they can refuse to offer service to these players, such as by implementing limitations to their accounts or closing them altogether.

Furthermore, good records should be kept when appropriate action has been taken, demonstrating when and why this sort of interaction was undertaken with the customers. Of course, this helps to monitor customers in the future.

Actions to tackle gambling related harm and vulnerable players can be put into different categories, including early generic action (such as via pop-ups, safer gambling emails and so on), early tailored action (communicating with the customer directly to utilise gambling management tools) and medium tailored action (phone calls to the customer for direct interaction, signposting to help and support, and prevention of direct marketing). Strong and very strong actions would include asking the customers affected to set spending limits, provide direct transfers to help and support, preventing the claim of offers and incentives, setting time outs on behalf of the customer, and, in extreme cases, refusal of service or a complete ending of the business relationship.

It is also key to note that the new rules dictate special offers and marketing incentives should never be sent to players that have been identified as at strong risk of harm. There have been multiple instances in the past of players who have self-excluded from gambling online but still ended up receiving marketing and bonus offers from casinos and sportsbooks. Self-exclusion is great in many areas, but certain flaws have also been exposed within the scheme that has led to vulnerable players being able to easily access online gambling content.

Through the necessity of licensees preventing marketing and bonus offers being sent to such players, it puts another barrier in the way before self-exclusion potentially occurs.

Evaluating the Actions and Individual Cases

mobile phone with warning problemOne final point coming into effect with the new rules is that all licensees should ensure processes are implemented to understand the impact of each individual interaction and action taken regarding customers’ behaviour. In doing so, it is possible to highlight if further action is needed to be able to minimise harm.

At the same time, it is necessary for these gambling operators to evaluate the effectiveness that their approach has had. Such evaluations of their actions need to be demonstrated to the Commission, and in doing so, they can provide assurance that the interaction systems in place are effective. Such measures as if there has been an increased take up of people implementing limits on their accounts and adhering to them, whether customer retention is good enough and if there has been a reduction in the number of complaints, can all provide an insight into whether an operator’s approach is working out.

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