Q&A: Gambling Commission’s Tim Miller on affordability checks and protecting consumers

In the first of a two-part Q&A, Gambling Commission executive director Tim Miller speaks to EGR about affordability checks, how they will better protect consumers and being live to black-market activity
The post Q&A: Gambling Commission’s Tim Miller on affordability checks and protecting consumers first appeared on EGR Intel.  

Affordability checks have, to put it lightly, come under fire since coming to the fore as part of the white paper into the Gambling Act 2005 review. The two-tiered checks, which in essence are designed to better protect vulnerable consumers, have drawn the ire of bettors, the horseracing industry and trade bodies in recent months.

As a recap, the checks will begin with light-touch measures for a net loss of £125 within a 30-day period or £500 within a one-year period.

The second tier, at an enhanced level, come into play when a player has a net loss of more than £1,000 in a rolling 24-hour period of £2,000 in a rolling 90-day period.

With the consultation on the measures having closed in October, there is a looming parliamentary debate this month on the topic. That debate has been brought to the table after Jockey Club CEO Nevin Truesdale’s petition broke the 100,000 signature mark in November.

Ahead of the debate, and the release of the consultation findings later this year, EGR spoke with Gambling Commission executive director Tim Miller to garner his thoughts on the topic in the first of a two-part interview.

EGR: One place to start is affordability checks and the debate that is surrounding them. Why do you want to see these put in place, personally?

Tim Miller (TM): I’ve been with the Commission seven years. I’ve seen firsthand through the time I’ve spent with families [and] individuals that struggle with gambling the very real human impact when gambling becomes harmful.

Measures that can reduce the risk of that happening should be welcome. The stories I’ve heard, I don’t think anybody, whatever your view on gambling or regulation, would want anyone else to experience that. And for me, that’s got to be a key driver of it.

EGR: The debate has become incredibly split. There are stories of lived experience of harm but there are also people’s livelihoods at stake in horseracing. How do you avoid being swayed on an emotional level?

TM: It’s so important to hear that voice of lived experience, but equally, you have to listen to a range of voices to understand a range of different impacts.

You need to listen to consumers that perhaps aren’t currently experiencing harm [and] what they think the impact of such checks would have; we’re talking to the industry.

What that goes to show is our desire for anything that’s implemented through the white paper to be really robustly evidence-based. Now, the voice of lived experience is part of that evidence base. But it’s not all of the evidence base.

We’ve got the research which provides a much clearer picture. I think when you look at all those different types of evidence, that’s when you can then better identify the things that are actually going to work.

It’s really important to listen to the voice of lived experience but if you don’t do things that actually work in practice, and don’t deliver the outcomes that you’re actually looking for, you’re not helping people who have had that experience and you may just be causing further harm.

Listening to everyone that’s got an interest in this is really key and I think we’ve been doing that. While there are obviously strong views held on different sides of the debate, my sense is that most people are trying to push in the same direction on these things.

EGR: The GC has said only 0.3% of accounts will be affected by affordability checks but this includes once-a-year bettors and anecdotal evidence suggests this isn’t the case. Is this a fair figure and how confident are you in it?

TM: Any data that you collect is not necessarily going to always be 100%. With a lot of surveys, for example, we’re looking at a sample of the population. As far as I’m aware, there’s never been a population-wide census carried out around gambling.

There is always going to be an element of that data not being 100%. That’s why we look a lot at the confidence intervals of the data and it is also the reason why we’ve been running data again.

We’ve been asking operators for more up-to-date data, so that we can see if things changed since the white paper has been developed. And it’s one of the reasons as well why it’s likely that we’ll be looking at taking a pilot approach into some of these checks so that we can see in real life if they are working in the way that we intended and whether there are aspects that might need to be tweaked.

There are some very strongly held views around these. It’s understandable that there’ll be people who will have concerns about how these might work in practice. But the absolute reassurance that we can give people is that we’re being driven by the evidence. We’re constantly updating that evidence so that we can see if things change and we’re going to move in a fairly calm and progressive way on this.

With something like financial risk checks, we recognise this is really complex. It is novel, no one else has really done anything like this. It’s quite contentious. And that’s why we’re currently exploring the possibility of doing this pilot so that we can be much more deliberative. Hopefully people will feel reassured that we’re not just trying to blindly plough ahead with things.

EGR: It has been consistently noted that checks will not be put in place until they are truly frictionless. But we hear from operators and customers that these are already being carried out, so where is the gap here in policy and reality?

TM: Both the minister and the GC have been really clear; frictionless is an essential part and a central principle of the checks.

That commitment remains and we’re not going to move from that. When you look at some of the data and the anecdotal information, what we need to get under the skin of is to what extent are people being driven away simply because checks are happening and to what extent is some of that revenue dropping, because those checks have identified people that perhaps were gambling at risky levels and those that actually operators themselves wouldn’t want within their customer base.

I think the white paper itself talks about if these checks are effective in the way that you expect. There will be people that are gambling now, that may not gamble in the future, because that gambling is harmful.

So, you would expect a reduction in the revenue there. But I think when you dig into all of the data, we haven’t yet been able to identify really clear evidence that checks the operators have been doing themselves so far are driving people out of the market.

You look at the most recent industry statistics where GGY in Britain has reached a record level. This doesn’t feel like an overall market that is seeing lots of money flowing out of it. Now, that’s not to say that we’re not live to the fact that there are different parts of the market that are facing different challenges. But I think it’s quite a jump at the moment to go from suggesting that the mere existence of checks is driving people out of the market. That’s something that we are absolutely going to have to monitor as the checks start to be developed.

EGR: But, if an operator stops a player betting with them, that may not mean they stop betting entirely. They could go to a lower-tier firm or eventually to the black market. Is there a concern the checks are playing a role in this at all?

TM: I think a key part of implementing any regulatory change, whether it’s this or anything else in the white paper, is making sure you understand if there are any unintended consequences coming from this, and if there are you then address those.

It is the reason why right at the beginning of this white paper implementation process, we said very clearly that we’re going to hardwire evaluation into what we’re doing and we’re being true to that.

Just in the last few weeks, along with the DCMS, we have jointly procured evaluation services for the white paper and I think that’s really significant. This is the first time as far as I can remember that the gambling regulator and the government have together procured evaluation. It just shows that we want to understand the overall impact the white paper is having; both at the regulatory and policy level. So, I think that’s really positive and we’re investing quite significantly in that evaluation approach. 

That will help us identify whether any of those unintended consequences are coming through. And if they are, then we will adapt accordingly and respond to that. But I think it’s not a reason not to look at taking regulatory action. The risk of not acting is also there in the same way that there are risks to acting. We’re live to those risks and we are putting in place infrastructure to identify if any of those risks happen and then respond to them.

EGR: There has been a groundswell against the checks as demonstrated by the Jockey Club petition which will now lead to a parliamentary debate. How much does that show a push back against checks?

TM: It shows a really strong consumer opinion there and it’s essential that we, the regulator, government and others listen to the full range of stakeholder opinions.

It’s important that we acknowledge the strength of feeling. We recognise that strength of feeling is genuine but I think we also recognise that when you are able to sit down and actually have a conversation about what we’re seeking to do, we have found that often some of the very vocal voices against it understand what we’re trying to do, and they’re slightly more supportive.

I think it is essential for us and government that we constantly reflect on are we doing a good enough job in the way we’re communicating what we’re doing? I think we can always communicate better. The other thing that’s worth looking at is that we also commissioned quite a lot of consumer research. We commissioned additional research in this area as well, speaking to a large number of consumers.

We’re seeing some different things coming through that. That doesn’t mean that the voices in the petition or anywhere else are less important, it just means that we have to look at the full variety of views that are coming from consumers. Having worked in lots of different sectors, I have to say gambling is one where consumers are not particularly a single kind of cohesive group. There’s such a huge range of different consumers who gamble for different reasons. It’s important that we hear that full range of voices.

The second half of this interview will be published tomorrow.

The post Q&A: Gambling Commission’s Tim Miller on affordability checks and protecting consumers first appeared on EGR Intel.


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