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Following the release of the Gambling Act review white paper last month, the UK Gambling Commission has identified six key areas where it needs to gather additional evidence before implementing new policies.

“We recognise that better data, better research and better evidence will lead to better gambling regulation and better outcomes for consumers who gamble, their communities and the gambling sector itself,” said executive director for research and policy Tim Miller in a statement.

As a result, the regulator has identified its most important evidence gaps and priority areas to work on between 2023 and 2026. 

Below, iGaming NEXT sets out a rundown of the key areas to be explored.

1. Early gambling experiences and gateway products

The Gambling Commission understands that children and young people are more vulnerable to gambling-related harms due to the stage of biological and neurological development they are in.

It is common in the UK for children to have some exposure to gambling or gambling-related activity, with 31% of 11- to 16-year olds saying in a recent survey that they had spent their own money on gambling activities in the prior 12 months.

Products which are not age-restricted, such as ‘penny pusher’ arcade machines, activities which cannot be regulated such as casual bets among friends, and gambling-adjacent products such as loot boxes in video games, are often the first interaction that children or young people have with gambling.

Other activities, such as choosing lottery numbers together with family members or backing horses in popular races such as the Grand National, are also common ways children are exposed to gambling before the age of 18.

In order to better understand the topic, the Gambling Commission will aim to answer several key questions, including what prompts different people to start gambling, how gambling behaviour changes as children grow into young adults, and what impact major betting events such as the World Cup and Grand National have on new gamblers.

The regulator will therefore continue its research with children and young people and build on existing research exploring the gambling journeys of young people, to further develop its understanding of how consumers are introduced to new gambling products and activities.

2. The range and variability of gambling experiences

This topic relates to the fact that “every gambler is different”, and the Commission therefore aims to better understand the different experiences people have with gambling, acknowledging how it fits into their lives and overlaps with other behaviours and experiences.

To do that, the UKGC will explore consumer journeys and motivations, and how gambling habits and behaviours change over time.

A deeper understanding of the range of gambling experiences will help the regulator to better address those experiencing harm while also deepening its knowledge on the positive outcomes of gambling, therefore better “reflecting the range of [its] regulatory duties.”

A greater understanding of low and high risk players could be beneficial to the regulator, it said, as gathering more information from ‘average’ gamblers will contribute to improved regulation for all, on matters such as bonus offers and available products.

Under this topic, the regulator will ask what it knows about the spectrum of gambling activity and what constitutes safe gambling, how gambling fits into a consumer’s wider online activity or life, and how and why people’s gambling habits and behaviours change over time.

3. Gambling-related harms and vulnerability

With this topic, the Commission aims to better understand the different ways gamblers can experience harms, and improve its ability to identify consumers who are more vulnerable or at risk.

One of the Gambling Commission’s three core licensing objectives is to protect children and other vulnerable people from gambling harm, “and this has been at the heart of many regulatory changes in recent years, informed by a wealth of research on the topic,” it said.

In spite of that, defining vulnerability can be challenging, it added, and the vulnerability of a given consumer is not necessarily static throughout their life.

Previous research has shown links between gambling and harms such as financial losses, depression, intimate partner violence, and others.

At its most extreme, gambling-related harm has been linked to increases in suicidal ideation, suicide attemps and in the worst cases, completed suicides.

Still, gaps remain in the research due to a lack of quality data, as the impact of gambling cannot always be readily assessed due to existing correlations between the above-mentioned harms.

The regulator also notes that other external factors including bereavement, relationship breakdown and poor health can all contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to gambling harm, and it therefore wants to establish better ways of offering timely protections against increased risk.

In addition, the Commission will aim to establish deeper research on varying experiences between people with different demographic characteristics such as gender, age, socio-economic group, ethnicity and neurodiversity.

The theme of gambling-related harm and vulnerability brings up perhaps more questions than any other, the Commission said, but some of the core ones to ask include which individual circumstances increase vulnerability to gambling harm, what is the impact on ‘affected others’ of gambling harm, and what interventions are effective in reducing gambling harm.

4. The impact of operator practices

In this topic, the Gambling Commission aims to understand how common operator practices influence consumer behaviour, while assessing the effectiveness of interventions designed to detect and reduce gambling harm.

While operators have a responsibility to protect their customers, “given the inherently risky activity of gambling, and the unusual adversarial relationship between gambler and operator, our research into exploring the information needs of consumers found that gamblers feel a tension around trust which risks undermining safer gambling messages,” the Commission said.

Operator practices which impact consumers include advertising and other communications that encourage gambling (or gambling mitigation), the presentation of information about products or offers, the way games themselves function, and the location of gambling opportunities either in-person or online.

The Gambling Commission therefore wants to improve its understanding of the impact of direct and indirect advertising, how people living nearer to land-based gambling premises are impacted by their proximity, and what impact the increased uptake of safer gambling tools has upon consumers.

In order to better understand the overall impact of operator practices, the Gambling Commission will ask questions such as how marketing and safer gambling practices can be incorporated together, how well consumers understand the information provided to them by operators, how effective online harm detection algorithms are, and what factors influence consumers’ perception of whether gambling is fair and trustworthy.

5. Product characteristics and risk

The Commission recognises that different product types carry with them different risk profiles for consumers, as different combinations of characteristics either add or mitigate riskiness for different types of gamblers.

As a result, it will seek to better understand which products and behaviours carry greater risks, for whom, and why.

It also aims to gain a deeper understanding of how consumers interact with different products, and areas of new or emerging risks, by building a strong understanding of developments within the market.

Some research has been conducted in recent years, such as into slot games and gameplay factors including frequency, audio-visual elements, rewards and information provision, as well as into the structural characteristics of sports betting products.

Given that “there is no single homogenous gambling journey,” the Commission suggests that further recesearch is required to establish connections between product characteristics and the risk of gambling harm.

It will therefore ask questions including whether certain product characteristics are associated with gambling harm, whether those characteristics disproportionately affect certain types of gamblers, how games can be designed to mitigate the risks of certain characteristics, and how people’s patterns of play differ between products.

6. Illegal gambling and crime

Preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, or being used to support crime, is another of the Gambling Commission’s three core licensing objectives.

Crimes related to problem gambling such as fraud and embezzlement, as well as money laundering and match-fixing in sports, must all be considered by the regulator to ensure the industry is not funding or benefitting from crime.

Establishing causality for individual crimes can be difficult, however, given that there are many contributory factors, while understanding the scale of crime’s impact also presents significant challenges for the Commission.

In addition, the regulator is keen to better understand the extent and impact of the illegal gambling market in Britain, with further research required to confidendtly estimate the actual rate of channelisation in the country.

The Commission will therefore ask questions including what the extent of gambling activity funded by criminal activity is, the size of the illegal gambling market and its impact on consumers, what motivates consumers to gamble on the illegal market, and how easy it is for consumers to know they are using an unregulated operator.

Research on all of the above themes will help to inform the new regulations eventually introduced as a result of the Gambling Act review.

After the white paper was first released last month, UKGC policy director Miller acknowledged that the overhaul would “likely take a number of years to fully complete.”

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