UK Gambling Commission outlines six areas of research and evidence gathering as the gaming sector in the UK prepares to undergo further consultations regarding a regulatory reform.
This morning, the regulator revealed its Evidence Gaps and Priorities Programme for 2023-2026. The programme examines gaps in evidence that must be filled around the UK gambling industry to achieve a “safer, fairer and criminal-free” industry.
The Commission will specifically seek evidence about early gambling experiences, gateway products, gambling-related harms or vulnerabilities, operator practices and their impact on gambling, product characteristics and risks and illegal gambling.
Tim Miller UKGC Executive Director for Research and Policy asserted that “Evidence Matters”. We all base our decisions on what we know about the world, and the evidence that is available.
The bigger and more important the decision, the more we will want to know before we make a decision. We all want to be sure we understand the situation before making a big decision. “What’s true in our everyday lives also applies to our understanding of gambling.”
The Commission’s mandate requires it to identify emerging and new risks, whether they are a result of changing consumer behavior or industry products. It cites product characteristics and risk analysis as being one of the most complex research elements in the industry.
Research has been conducted on gaming products like slot machines and betting products. It has highlighted aspects such as frequency, audiovisual factors, rewards and information, as well structural characteristics.
Research has been conducted at the user level to determine how people interact with gambling products and concepts such as probability and randomness.
It is acknowledged that “there are no homogenous gambling experiences”. In order to determine whether product characteristics increase the risk of harm or potential harm for users, it is necessary to conduct deeper research. Product research should include data from real-time account activities, surveys, data linking, or product trials conducted in live environments.
To determine the product risk, you should ask questions about: whether certain product characteristics cause harm to gamblers. If so, how can these characteristics be mitigated without compromising fun? How can products be designed in a way that minimizes risks while still allowing people to enjoy themselves?
Illegal Gambling and Crime
As factors have an impact on the Criminal Justice System and wider society, the Commission’s efforts to combat illegal gambling and criminality are deemed as a key objective.
The Commission’s evidence discipline aims to better understand the links between gambling and criminal activities, which should not be treated as crimes committed because of gambling harms.
The Commission’s goal is to stop gambling from being a cause of crime or disorder, as well as a means for supporting crimes that impact society and businesses, such money laundering, fraud, and embezzlement. It noted that research should include crimes committed as a result of gambling, crimes that affect society or gambling operators and links between gambling and criminal justice.
The Howard League’s research has revealed a link between gambling problems and criminal activity, such as financial crimes like fraud and embezzlement.
The Commission has stated that it can be difficult to establish causality when there are multiple contributing factors or only correlational data available.
The UKGC has said that it needs to do more research in order to better understand the extent of illegal gambling funding, the size of the market and its impact, consumer motivations, and the ease of identifying unregulated gambling operators.
UKGC’s research shows that gamblers are experiencing a “tension around trust” which could undermine safer gambling messages.
The Commission has designated the use of detection algorithm to identify consumers who are at risk as a “topic of interest” for the next three-year period.
The way in which games work, where ‘gambling options’ are located, whether they’re available online or in person, and how information is presented about products are also important.
After a two-year intense debate on the subject, the Gambling Act Review will again take into consideration advertising practices.
The UKGC is primarily interested in how targeted advertising fits into an ‘online advertising ecosystem complex’, and what impact it has on specific groups, especially those living in disadvantaged areas.
In this area, the regulator’s goals are to obtain access to account-level data held by operators, to conduct research on the role that operator practices play in customer journeys and to use consumer voice research in order to determine what influences customer confidence.
Gateways and Pathways
UKGC’s first priority is to address ‘passive influence’ on youth. The White Paper recently mandated that all UK gambling products must have a minimum age of 18.
There are similar products that can be used by young consumers, such as coin-pusher machines in arcades. The UKGC wants to know if such products are a child’s first experience with gambling.
Esports is again being cited as a subject that needs further study. The UKGC, in particular, has highlighted video game loot box – its policy has been criticized in the past – as a product that needs further research.
The regulator is interested in the way mainstream sports events influence gambling behavior at a young age. One of the questions suggested is to look at ‘the impact’ of major betting events such as the World Cup or Grand National.
The UKGC has found that most gambling activities involving children under 16 are informal. This includes sweepstakes among family members and friends, or selecting family National Lottery numbers.
The regulator will assess whether and how the activity “normalises” gambling behavior among youth. The White Paper said little about advertising compared to other areas. However, the Commission intends to investigate how marketing contributes to the “normalisation” of betting.
Gauging the behavioral range
The UKGC claims that with over 23 million British gamblers having played at least once in the last four weeks, there are many ways for these consumers to “move in and around” harmful gambling behaviour.
The Commission hopes to use the Gambling Survey for Great Britain in order to better understand gambling behavior at the national level as well as’subgroups’.
The regulator also aims to develop its understanding of the customer journeys, and lay a’strong basis’ for future research. For example, by creating recontact samples in longitudinal research.
In its study on gambling behavior, the Commission will not only focus on harms related to gambling. In the report, it was stated that the Commission will also examine ‘positive effects’ of gambling behaviour.
The Commission will also focus on improving its knowledge about gambling from a regulatory standpoint to ensure that gambling is fair and accessible for all.
Accuracy & Transparency
In addressing its key themes of evidence, the Commission highlighted the importance of the approach it took on the “role in delivery” for all UK stakeholders.
The research unit of the Commission will place a high priority on data evaluation, transparency in data collection, records keeping, and accessibility regarding how research is conducted.
The UKGC has a plan to improve research and evidence-based practices over the next three-years, while focusing on transparency and collaboration with lived-experience communities, as well as strengthening peer review processes and ensuring due diligence. It will also work with partners to improve evidence collected about UK gambling.