Regulatory Drama in 2018: UKGC and ASA Both Get Tough on British Gaming

It was another year of regulatory ructions in 2018 within the UK gaming industry, leading to some heavy fines for the country’s leading operators.

The UKGC and ASA brought down the regulatory sledgehammer on UK gaming operators in 2018 and controversy over policy decisions was nonstop. (Image: gamblinginsider.com)

With the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) taking an aggressive stance on infractions of all types, even the biggest brands in the country have been forced to clean up their acts this year. However, despite repeated calls to offer safer and more responsible products, there were some that simply didn’t cut the mustard.

UKGC Hits Hard and Fast

Setting the tone in January, the UKGC put 17 casinos on alert. Prior to her departure, former UKGC Chief Executive Sarah Harrison called for licensees to take more care when vetting and monitoring customers.

“It is vital that the gambling industry takes its duty to protect consumers and keep crime out of gambling seriously,” Harrison said in a January press statement.

With her intentions clear, Harrison confirmed that 17 casinos had been notified that their anti-money laundering and customer tracking policies were being reviewed. Of those under investigation, five operators were at risk of losing their gaming licences.

At the time, the UKGC declined to comment on which operators were being looked at and with the end of the year fast approaching, none of the most targeted companies have lost licences as of yet.

But that wasn’t the end of the regulatory pushback against the UK gaming operators in 2018.

ASA Joins in Regulatory Fight

By May, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was flexing its muscle after taking action against m88.com.

Following a complaint by the Fairer Gambling campaign, the ASA looked into the use of fairy-tale characters in gambling adverts. Reviewing material posted on m88.com, the watchdog concluded that content featuring Red Riding Hood breached ASA and UKGC advertising standards.

The move against m88.com followed the six-figure fines BGO (£300,000) and Lottoland (£150,000) received in 2017 for failing to adequately explain their games and promotions. Although the negative press didn’t do the UK gaming industry any favours, the swift action appears to have paid off.

In September, two operators were given a reprieve following complaints about their adverts. Despite skating on the edge of what’s acceptable, Betfair and PlayOjo showed that it was possible to advertise their products in an eye-catching way without completely breaching ASA guidelines.

Operators Given Two Million Reasons

Even as British gaming adverts fell in line with expectations, the UKGC continued to find fault in other areas, however. In June — just days before the regulator published a new Enforcement Report — 32Red was hit with a £2 million fine.

After completing a long-running investigation into the company’s player verification procedures, the regulator found multiple infractions. At the heart of the review was a customer who deposited £758,000 over a three-year period, despite earning a net salary of £2,150 per month.

Along with the disparity between the amount earned and the amount spent, 22 instances of problem gambling were missed by 32Red’s security team. For failing to spot a problem gambler and be a socially responsible operator, 32Red was forced to pay a penalty package worth £2 million.

It was another example of the zero-tolerance approach that’s made the UK a leader in the industry. But don’t expect Britain’s regulators to let up in 2019: these tough organizations don’t miss a thing and will keep operators playing a fair game for many years to come.

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