Andrew Rhodes - Gaslighter General
The Forbes Health website states:
If someone is intentionally distorting reality to make you feel like what you’re seeing or feeling isn’t real, you could be a victim of gaslighting. Gaslighting can come from a romantic partner, a boss, a family member, a doctor or anyone else in a position of power.
Andrew Rhodes, CEO of the Gambling Commission, a man in a position of power for all of us in the British gambling industry, is a gaslighter. He is undoubtedly, the Gaslighter General, as never before in the history of British gambling regulation has the truth been so distorted. He is gaslighting the British gambling industry, the public and one would think, by extension, Parliament. The proof we have is the speech he gave at the at the ICE World Regulatory Briefing on the 8th February 2023, where he claimed that:
'The Gambling Commission has not imposed blanket so-called ‘affordability checks’ or set limits on what we think anyone should be ‘allowed’ to spend'.
The Gaslighter General followed this up by stating on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday Show (broadcast 12/02/23) by stating:
“We haven’t mandated affordability checks,”
“What we’ve said to the industry as you have to make sure that you have policies and procedures in place that guard against risk for consumers.”
“For all operators, this is a requirement that they have to have. They have to meet that requirement. We’ve not specified that it must be at pounds level. We’ve not specified what proportion of people’s income, they’re allowed to gamble”.
Shock at these statements appeared in the Racing Post but got zero traction elsewhere in the non-industry media. This is hardly surprising as to know whether the Gambling Commission had or hadn’t mandated Affordability would demand a working knowledge of the Gambling Commission’s regulations, known as Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCPs) and their accompanying Guidance Notes which allow the Commission to arbitrarily impose regulations without consultation and so far no mainstream journo has shown that level of dedication to their craft. Obviously, just regurgitating anti-gambling pressure group press releases makes for an easier life and more time to spend on your non-gender specific oat milk lattes at the Guardian.
The facts are that the Gambling Commission did indeed impose Affordability Checks. They were ‘blanket’ as all customers had the capacity to be subject to them. The Commission did also recommend very strongly the level it should be as a monetary figure. I shall provide the evidence for this below. But before I do, please take note that Racing TV undertook a survey of 3,500 of their viewers on the forthcoming Gambling Review and 22% of the respondents said they had been asked to supply personal information or in other words, suffered an Affordability Check. Andrew Rhodes says Affordability checks were never imposed, we have documentary proof they were and hundreds of people claims to have suffered them. There can not be a more definitive example of gaslighting ever.
The question surely is should the CEO of a regulator be allowed to be so publicly wayward with the facts? What other ‘facts’ is he distorting? And more pertinently, is this disingenuousness a sign of a mental health problem that makes him unfit to continue in his role? Some might say that since Rhodes has spent so long writing new gambling policy without Parliament’s consent that he has become more politician than regulator and thus feels he can be as loose with the truth as other politicians. Boris Johnson knows with his forthcoming interrogation by the Commons Privileges Committee, your lies eventually find you out in the end, but unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a similar process for dissembling regulators.
Affordability Checks for the uninitiated, are the concept of a gambling operator assessing the finances of their customer to check whether they can afford to gamble.
When defined like this in just one sentence, the enormity of the regulatory over-reach it suggests is blatantly apparent and as our previous Gambling Minister, Paul Scully MP, commented at the BGC AGM, ‘That word suggests that the government or Gambling Commission are going to set rules on how much people can ‘afford’ to gamble’. This is entirely its purpose. Unlike with practically any other purchase an adult makes with their own money, the regulator wants the gambling operator to assess that you can afford to gamble, regardless of you being an adult fully capable of working out what you can afford and how. The last time the state intervened and limited the monetary amount a British citizen could gamble was the 1664 Gaming Act otherwise known as An Act against deceitfull disorderly and excessive Gameing that made all bets over £100 (£15,160 in 2023) null and void. The same puritanical streak is alive in Whitehall and Birmingham today as it literally was back then.
The genesis for affordability is unrecorded and definitely not based on any academic evidence. The Commission’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request by this author as to what were the titles of the academic papers and the case studies from other jurisdictions and any other associated materials that were the evidence base used by the Commission to support the introduction of Affordability was answered only with the highly flawed Muggleton, N., Parpart, P., Newall, P. et al. The association between gambling and financial, social and health outcomes in big financial data. Nat Hum Behav 5, 319–326 (2021) which doesn’t believe people win money gambling and was also published years after Affordability was introduced.
I have two theories as to where it comes from, one is based on a conversation I had with the High Priestess of Prohibition, Dr Heather Wardle, and one based on a statement in a UKGC document. In my conversation with Wardle, she exclaimed that she couldn’t understand why operators didn’t just do credit checks on their customers to see who was in financial difficulty or not. Being an activist academic grifter she was obviously blind to the ethical, political, practical and cost issues that would make rational people to dismiss the idea. But considering her role as Vice-Chair of the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board who had recently convinced the Commission to adopt Public Health approach to gambling (PHAG), it was definitely an idea of its time. For more on what utter tosh PHAG is, please read my article Six years on and they still hate us.
In February 2018, the Gambling Commission published its Review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures – formal advice where they comment:
Our objective is to reduce the risks that consumers spend more time and money than they can afford when gambling. A particular difficulty with this objective is that we do not know how much time and money individual consumers can afford.
This comment was made about the work the Commission had been doing on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals but shows the foundations of the Affordability concept. A belief that the way to prevent problem gambling is to reduce the amount of time and money spent on gambling, or in other words, just reduce the overall amount of gambling regardless of the millions who enjoy it harm free. It is picked up later in the report, where the Commission, complaining that online operators didn’t know enough about new customers, made as an action point:
we will consult on introducing a customer due diligence requirement so that operators will have more information about their customers at an earlier stage. This would require players to be verified before they were allowed to gamble. We will also consult on requirements that would mean operators had to set limits on players’ spending which could only be increased once they had further verified information about the player, for example via an affordability check.
The following month (March 2018), the Commission published its Review of Online Gambling. Page 6 repeats the above action point verbatim and pages 18-19, look at the demographic and economic profiles of gamblers and states: ‘This information can be used to support analysis of gambling behaviour, for example by considering how affordable and sustainable a consumer’s level of gambling spend is’. The report continues looking at disposable income, based on a YouGov survey, and finds ‘overall 80% of online gamblers have disposable income of less than £1,000 per month’. They conclude:
We think that the industry could and should make better use of publicly available data and information that can help them better understand their consumers and protect them from harm. This should include using demographic information to make an assessment of the likely spending capacity of consumers. This could mean that operators place limits on accounts and require additional information from consumers before raising these.
The Commission then promises to launch a consultation into customer due diligence, where new online gambling customers would have financial limits set on their accounts until their financial situation can be verified – via an Affordability Check.
The concept that a provider of services should also be gatekeeper on who they supply on the basis of what is assumed that the consumer can afford, to most people is intrusive and illiberal, but to the Public Health zealots is completely acceptable as their future funding depends on it. Public Health grifters see gambling as an easy route to research funds with the added bonus of squashing a recreational activity that grates against their political idiosyncrasies hewn out of years in the social and cultural isolation in academia.
On the 5th September 2018, the Commission launches a consultation on age and identity verification which closed on the 27th November 2018, this would not look at Affordability and stated:
We also intend to consult at a later date on proposals that would mean licensees would have to set limits on customers’ gambling activity which can only be changed once the licensee has verified further information about the customer. The purpose of this is to reduce the risk of gambling-related harm. Information the licensee could seek to verify might, for example, include:
Financial indicators to assess whether a customer can afford their current levels of gambling - this could be with reference to customer specific data such as their credit profile information, or more generic sources such as postcode deprivation indices
The consultation did, however, ask some Affordability related questions in its Additional call for information - mandatory account limits. Examples of which were given in the Commission’s response to the consultation. To the question, ‘What are licensees able to do to ensure they know enough about a new customer to assist them in preventing that customer from experiencing gambling-related harm? The Commission revealed the following responses from stakeholders:
licensees could ask for financial information such as source of income or perform credit checks to assess how much a customer could afford to spend
another licensee suggested using data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to determine a median salary or disposable income for an area, to assess affordability. They suggested that this could be done if a customer sets a deposit limit or where deposits greater than £300 are made (which are monitored and investigated in real time by the licensee).
The Commission’s good fortune in getting stakeholders to answer questions that fit exactly with the Commission’s policy ambitions continued when they asked, ‘What types of information are you able to access that could help inform you as to how much a new customer might be able to afford to gamble? The response was:
Most consumers responded that licensees could access information relating to a customer’s financial circumstances, such as showing bank statements, proof of income, and credit checks.
The Commission had also conducted a consumer panel which had shown a large amount of gamblers having negative views about Affordability checks, which may have swayed the Commission’s position as they appeared to be taking stock, as they stated they would:
work with licensees and financial institutions to better understand the range of accessible data and how it could inform mandatory limit setting, before we consider consulting on options at a later date.
Mandatory limit setting upon account opening followed by an affordability check was the obvious policy intention, the question appeared to be how were operators supposed to ascertain Affordability.
Whether linked or not, we don’t know, the Commission decides to change the way Customer Interaction was dealt with in the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCPs). On Valentine’s Day 2019, it launches a consultation on Proposed changes to LCCP requirements for customer interaction and alternative dispute resolution, and call for evidence on gambling website blocking software. It gives its reasons as the gambling industry not doing customer interaction properly, thresholds are either not set or set too high and customer monitoring is not happening to the extent the Commission wants it to. It is apparent that the Commission doesn’t think the industry is taking it seriously enough, stating the industry shows a:
Failure to interact promptly or effectively when a customer exhibits indicators of harm, either through making unjustified assumptions about what gambling behaviour is ‘normal’ or being slow to react
It should be stated that this is not the whole industry. The Commission had just found case studies where bad behaviour existed. A persistent theme for the Commission is using examples of bad behaviour as justification for tightening regulation even though such examples were obviously in the minority or the Commission would list the number of miscreants. Bad behaviour can also be seen as a challenge in interpreting the rules as until the July 2019 change to the LCCP’s, the rules on customer interaction pertaining to a customer’s finances were:
Social responsibility code provision 3.4.1 Customer interaction – SR code
All licences, except non-remote lottery
1) Licensees must put into effect policies and procedures for customer interaction where they have concerns that a customer’s behaviour may indicate problem gambling. The policies must include:
e) specific provision for making use of all relevant sources of information to ensure effective decision making, and to guide and deliver effective customer interactions, including in particular
i )provision to identify at risk customers who may not be displaying obvious signs of, or overt behaviour associated with, problem gambling: this should be by reference to indicators such as time or money spent
 Racing Post, 12th, 16th, 19th February 2023
 Ibid p.51
 Ibid p.25
 Ibid p.25
 Gambling Commission, Licence conditions and codes of practice, January 2018, In effect from 4 April 2018, p.47
As can be seen there is whole load of space for interpretation and as it would seem failure is measured by how much an operator interprets the regulations in the way the Gambling Commission sees how the rules should be interpreted. This would be fine if the guidance was crystal clear or the commentary from Commission officials was consistent but it hardly ever is.
The Consultation reiterated the wish for account restrictions until an affordability check could be made:
We know that issues such as how much a consumer can afford to spend on gambling will vary amongst different consumers, which is why some of the more effective processes for identifying harmful gambling activity rely on changes to a customer’s usual gambling preferences and behaviours. This however is not an effective way to manage the risks presented by new and unknown customers who have not built up a ‘gambling pattern’. One of the ways that operators could manage the risks for new customers is through the imposition of account limits, or ‘backstops’, that for example prevent customers depositing above a set amount of money until further information about the customer has been verified. But these simple monetary thresholds for interacting with customers could only be effective if set at a realistic level which the majority of consumers could reasonably afford.
The consultation proposed changing the LCCP for Customer Interaction to include the requirement for operators to adhere to Guidance Notes. The Commission argues that as the body of knowledge about gambling harms increases, mostly because what there is, is so methodologically poor, it is easier and faster for the Commission to update Guidance Notes rather than a LCCP. What they are failing to say is that under section 24 (10) of the Gambling Act 2005, the Gambling Commission has to consult every time it changes a LCCP. This does not apply to Guidance Notes and so there becomes a route for controversial regulation to be imposed without due scrutiny.
June 2019 saw the publication of the Commission’s first enforcement report, Raising Standards for Consumers - Enforcement report 2018 to 2019. This would try to address the obvious need for clarity in the regulation, it had its own section on Affordability, an odd thing to do when according to the Gaslighter General it had never been imposed. This section offered such illumination as:
For each age group, the data suggests that the GB population have disposable income per month from a figure less than £125 up to £499. This is equivalent to less than £1,500 per year and £6,000 per year. However, even these disposable income figures do not take into consideration unavoidable monthly costs or annual costs such as transport, fuel, monthly contractual payments (mobile phones, cars, life insurance etc), vehicle maintenance (service, repairs and MOT), clothing and personal care.
The disposable income data identifies clear benchmarks that should drive Social Responsibility (SR) triggers which will help to identify gambling-related harm by considering affordability. SR triggers should be set at a level so that most of the customer base is monitored based on the open source information
This clearly implies that an Affordability check was imposed on ‘most of the customer base’ and that it had a monetary value of between £125 and £499 per month. The Enforcement report even has Affordability questions as part of its Compliance Healthcheck:
at the point a customer registers with you, do you require employment details?
do you link these details to average income for the job type to better understand customer affordability?
This would be followed in July 2019 with the new LCCP, Social Responsibility Code Provision 3.4.1 Customer Interaction which would come into force on 31st October 2019 and required licensees to take into account the Commission’s guidance on customer interaction. This guidance is structured along the three key outcomes operators would be expected to meet: to identify – interact – evaluate. The Guidance Notes include a section on Affordability and a customer’s personal circumstances:
Historically, gambling operators have not systematically considered customer affordability when developing their customer interaction policies. Many have used deposit or loss thresholds as a main or sole prompt for a customer interaction, but these have often been set at levels that were inappropriately high, in comparison to the average amount of money that the majority of people have available to spend on leisure activities. This has led to a number of examples of customers spending more than they could afford, and this not being identified sufficiently early, as seen in much of the Commission’s compliance and enforcement casework since 2017.
Operators should aim to identify those experiencing or at risk of harm and intervene to try to reduce harm at the earliest opportunity. Reliance on deposit or loss thresholds that are set too high will result in failing to detect some customers who may be experiencing significant harms associated with their gambling. It is therefore imperative that threshold levels are set appropriately.
Open source data exists which can help operators assess affordability for their GB customer base and improve their risk assessment for customer interactions. Thresholds should be realistic, based on average available income for your customers. This should include the Office of National Statistics publications on levels of household income.
In considering these thresholds, you should be aware of the difference between ‘disposable income’ and ‘discretionary income’ which refers to the amount left after living costs are taken into account, but it does still include many other unavoidable costs. Most people would consider it harmful if they were spending a significant amount of their discretionary income on gambling
Again it is quite clear that the Commission expect Affordability Checks on all customers and at the limit implied by their interpretation of ONS data, or £500 per month.
Which leads to the big question for the Gaslighter General in stating the Commission didn’t impose Affordability, why was Affordability in the Guidance Notes and why did his then predecessor, Neil MacArthur say at a CEO Breakfast briefing on the 2nd October 2019:
‘We also want to support you to overcome challenges where that will help consumers. For example - recently one of you told me a challenge for you was consumers not understanding why you were asking to see proof of affordability. So we’ve added a page to our website so consumers can see why we ask you to make those checks, which you can link to or point consumers toward if they ask’.
March 2020 saw the first Covid-19 Lockdown and the UKGC certain that all the enforced staying at home can only lead to an explosion of online gambling and a pandemic of problem gambling, which didn’t happen. Neil McArthur stated on the 25th March 2020:
we expect you [gambling operators] to act responsibly, especially around individual customer affordability checks and increased social responsibility interactions
This was promptly followed up on the 12th May 2020 with the Covid-19 restrictions, alterations to the LCCP’s undertaken in breach of the law as they were enforced with no consultation prior to their imposition. These included the following:
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown, licensees should ensure they have the following measures implemented into their customer interaction framework for the purposes of preventing gambling related harm:
Reviews of all thresholds and triggers used to track vulnerability to ensure that they reflect changed financial circumstances that many consumers will be experiencing. An emphasis should be placed on those thresholds and triggers being proactively reset on a precautionary basis to ensure customers with emerging vulnerability, such as increased time spent at play or increased spend can be identified….
e) Conduct affordability assessments for individuals picked up by existing or new thresholds and triggers which indicate consumers experiencing harm. Consider limiting or blocking further play until the checks have been concluded and supporting evidence obtained.
Bizarrely even though all Covid-19 restrictions were removed by March 2022, the Gambling Commission kept these additional restrictions in place until September 2022 with no evidential need.
The Commission made it plain in a punchy Keynote Speech by MacArthur at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute conference on the 13th September 2020, that they were ploughing on with Affordability even though it was becoming the cause celebre of the Gambling Review, stating:
We are still awaiting details of what the Government’s Gambling Act Review will look like and we will, of course, support the Government with our data, experience and expertise. But we will not wait for the Review’s outcome to make progress. We will shortly be launching a consultation on customer interaction and how gambling operators should use affordability to keep their customers safer.
The Enforcement Report 2019-2020, published on the 6th November 2020 also had its own section of Triggers and Affordability which starts with the mantra of the Commission that the industry isn’t doing enough:
Twelve months ago, we recommended that operators reassess their framework on triggers to consider their customer base and individual customer’s disposable income levels as a starting point for setting benchmark triggers.
The intention behind this was to ensure vulnerable customers were identiﬁed as early as possible and interacted with appropriately. Despite this recommendation, the compliance and enforcement teams have continued to review cases where, in the last twelve months, individuals have demonstrated gambling-related harm indicators and still been able to continue to gamble without effective engagement.
Furthermore, these individuals have funded their gambling without satisfactory affordability checks and appropriate evidence being obtained.
After giving a handful of examples of industry failings, the Commission states that:
Open source data that can help operators assess affordability for GB customers and improve its risk assessment and customer interventions has not notably changed since last year’s enforcement report.
It gives ONS data as example that 50% of UK adults earn less than £30,500 gross per year and that operators should be considering their disposable income. Considering that Affordability has not been imposed, it is odd that they state so clearly their concerns about the way the industry is interpreting the non-existent regulations:
We are concerned licensees are creating complex and convoluted matrices and mappings within their affordability framework to place customers into trigger groups well over the gross earnings stated above, before disposable income is factored in. Of more concern, these trigger groups are set without any sort of customer interaction to inﬂuence their true affordability determination. Operators must interact with customers early on to set adequate, informed affordability triggers to protect customers from gambling related harm. Failure to do so could render the operator non-compliant.
If there is to be a ‘J’accuse’ moment about the Gaslighter General’s recent comments it has to be the next paragraph in the Enforcement Report:
Customers wishing to spend more than the national average should be asked to provide information to support a higher affordability trigger such as three months’ payslips, P60s, tax returns or bank statements which will both inform the affordability level the customer may believe appropriate with objective evidence whilst enabling the licensee to have better insight into the source of those funds and whether they are legitimate or not.
Which is then followed by commentary on the illegal Covid-19 restrictions, which include the guidance to: ‘Conduct effective affordability checks during the life of the customer relationship but particularly during this crisis’.
In the next section of the Enforcement Report, on Customer Interaction and Social Responsibility failings, the industry is accused of failure because:
Staff accept customer responses at face value without considering other information available such as affordability based on their speciﬁc circumstances.
The Commission asks in its section on best practice for Customer Interaction:
Do you have systems in place to identify potential problem gamblers? Do these include appropriate and realistic trigger points linked to individual affordability considerations for when the usual pattern of gambling becomes unusual (these should not be just ﬁnancial)? How do you protect new or unknown customers (where a pattern of play cannot yet be established)?
The aforementioned consultation appears in November 2020, Remote customer interaction - Consultation and Call for Evidence. Opening on the 3rd and closing on the 9th February 2021 it becomes the longest consultation ever undertaken by the Commission as its output is still not available over two years later. Again, the premise for the Gambling Commission implementing the consultation is because:
Remote gambling operators already have the capability of identifying customers who may be harmed by gambling. Our evidence shows that the industry has not used this capability sufficiently to reduce harms. We are therefore consulting on stronger requirements that will help ensure remote gambling operators do more to identify consumers who may be harmed by gambling and to interact and take action sufficiently early and effectively to prevent harm
Although problem gambling levels are contentious, due to the fact the Commission wants to change the way they are calculated, possibly because they have shown a decrease over this period, it does seem odd that the Commission can imply that the industry isn’t doing what it should when it comes to preventing problem gambling when at the same time, for the year until September 2021:
The overall problem gambling rate has decreased significantly (0.3%, compared to 0.6% in year to September 2020).
The British gambling industry enjoys one of the lowest problem gambling rates ever recorded and one of the lowest in the whole world but this is not celebrated by the regulator, just a never ending critique and a never ending call for more regulation.
The consultation would go on to state:
We are also calling for evidence on what the thresholds for these affordability assessments should be, the nature of these affordability assessments and how operators are required to protect consumers following an assessment.
We recognise that there is a need to strike the right balance between allowing consumer freedom and ensuring that there are protections in place to prevent gambling that would have an adverse financial and health impact on consumers. It is necessary for an operator to understand whether a customer is gambling beyond their means to understand the risk of such harms.
They are quite clear that Affordability with given amounts at which checks would have to be made is their plan. They propose a change to the LCCPs, replacing the Guidance Notes with a Manual, and it has Affordability at its heart:
Proposed LCCP Social Responsibility provision 3 - addition to SR Code 3.4.1
Requirements for specific indicators
Licensees must follow set requirements for specific indicators:
Licensees must conduct affordability assessments at the level specified in this provision following the call for evidence. The definition of relevant affordability assessments will be provided - and different types of assessments may be set at different levels
The consultation asks the question: ‘To what extent do you agree with the proposal that remote operators should be required to conduct affordability assessments at thresholds set by the Commission?’
Accompanying the consultation was a Call for Evidence. This explains that the Commission:
Want[s] to discuss with consumers and wider stakeholders the appropriate thresholds that should be applied for an operator to be required to conduct affordability assessments, the nature of affordability assessments, and the action that must be taken to protect consumers following an assessment. We recognise that some of these options would potentially restrict consumer freedom in some cases, and that there is a need to ensure that unintended consequences are minimised
Two points of interest arise with this. Firstly, that the question is primarily addressed to consumers. This would appear logical if we were dealing with an ideology-free regulator. What we are dealing with is a regulator whose CEO publicly dissembles so we can be warranted in arguing the cynical approach that by consumer, the Commission is meaning the army of ex-problem gamblers that swamp every consultation arguing for prohibition. There would be over 16,000 responses to this consultation and it appears that many thousands came from concerned punters, which may have given the Commission the first inklings of how despised these measures are. Linked is the second point, the Commission actually acknowledging that there could be unintended consequences. Even though the Commission has repeatedly stated that they don’t think there is a risk of Affordability causing a Black Market (it has), like Sarah Gardner most recently did in Denmark, it does appear that even as early as 2021 they are wary.
Evidence is then supposedly provided as why Affordability is needed. The Commission cites the 2018 Health Survey for England (HSE), where 21% of people who had gambled had bet more than they can afford at least sometimes. This is written without any self-awareness that spending beyond what you budget for is integral to a huge number of retail transactions and is at best unfortunate but in no way a harm to be regulated against. If this was the case, a restaurant couldn’t suggest a wine to accompany a meal (selling up) and the Commission’s senior management would only be limited to one hair shirt and only the poorer metal cilice that sticks into their thighs to remind them of the suffering they must endure on their mission. Losing money which you cant afford is integral to gambling and a life lesson. It only becomes a problem when that lesson is not learnt. This doesn’t seem to fit with the Commission’s more bizarre and unscientific view:
This indicates that gambling within one’s means is a reasonable way of discriminating between those who are problem or moderate risk gamblers and those that are not.
All normal recreational gamblers will on occasion have had a disaster. Been too cocky, too lazy or downright unlucky and paid the price. This may have meant short term budgeting and a change in direction on planned expenditure. Exactly the same as if a pair of shoes that were ‘life changing’ had to be bought or romantic break needed to patch up a relationship or indeed that company you invested in, had a CEO who embezzled its funds. Life is chaotic and plans change. All adults would like to keep within their financial budgets but mostly don’t, that’s why credit was invented and banks gives overdrafts. It is not for the regulator to impose good financial behaviour on adults who can run their own lives.
The Commission then gives as an example of how the industry is failing in its duty to protect people the fact that out of its 40 separate live operating licence cases, safer gambling breaches features as the primary issue in 26 of them. What they fail to comment is that there are approx. 500 licensed online operators, so this represents a failure rate of 5.2% for safer gambling which a) is far more than just affordability and b) due to the arbitrary nature of the Commission and its punishments does not imply anyone has suffered any harm. They then provide the case studies which, as stated before, are the basis for all their regulatory creep. Six examples are given where customers spend relatively large amounts of money and don’t have their income verified. If we take the case studies at face value, they do look like in these examples the industry has failed but what we need to know from the Commission how often is it happening? If it is on a mass scale then we would surely have more problem gamblers than we do?
The Commission argues that discretionary income is the best way of calculating what a gambler can afford to gamble. For this it uses YouGov profiles survey from 2020 and the ONS Living Costs and Food Survey from 2019. From this they recommend thresholds for affordability be set at a maximum of £2,000 per month spend and for a minimum give this statement:
Equally, the Commission’s evidence to date would not indicate that it would be proportionate to require customers to be subjected to affordability assessments for small, infrequent gambling at a level which would be affordable to most of the population, or where gambling at those levels is extremely unlikely to cause financial hardship. This means that we are not - based on the evidence so far - considering a ‘licence to gamble’ which would require affordability checks to be conducted as a solely pre-emptive action for all consumers. This may indicate that the lowest possible threshold is likely to be at least £100 loss per calendar month.
Benevolently the Commission thinks you shouldn’t be Affordability checked if you gamble below £100 per month but above that and you must.
That’s £23.07 per week
Let that sink in – that is the acceptable level of expenditure for a legitimate recreational activity before the state starts intruding.
That’s less than two pizzas at Pizza Express, just less than two adults and a child to the Odeon cinema and just less than a bottle of Vina Ventisquero Carménère, a Chilean red at my local Greene King pub. The Gambling Commission think that the majority of online gamblers spend less than £57 per month so this shouldn’t be onerous. However, the Commission goes on to state:
We would not necessarily consider it proportionate that an affordability assessment is undertaken on all customers but operators should certainly be gathering data throughout the life of the customer relationship, starting from the point of registration which should be able to assist with a consideration of whether a customer is gambling within their means. We are proposing that an affordability assessment is undertaken if certain loss thresholds are reached. Operators would then be expected to take appropriate action based on the result of the assessment, such as setting tailored deposit limits (sometimes described as a hard stop or a handbrake).
So not blanket Affordability checks just blanket preparation for Affordability checks and then blanket Affordability checks once the £100 limit is met. Which quite frankly anyone who takes their gambling more seriously than a bet on their football team every week will do at some point. A £20 bet on every race of the Cheltenham Festival will cost £560! Any racing festival will cause an affordability check. Hence Racing’s worry that if an Affordability regime is brought in, who is going or following racing?
Of interest is the Commission’s thoughts on unintended consequences, which are the epitome of complacency:
Possible unintended consequences: That consumers are unhappy with allowing access to private information such as affordability data or information about vulnerable situations.
Possible mitigations: Building a culture where customers expect consistent checks at set thresholds, the Commission provides information to consumers on the checks that may occur to help build this culture, which operators can refer to consumers, thresholds for affordability are set at a level which is reasonable and evidence-based.
Possible unintended consequences: Consumers are driven to an illegal market.
Possible mitigations: Ongoing enforcement activity to tackle and prevent illegal gambling, effective consumer messaging about risks of gambling with illegal operators.
The Gambling Commission is obviously blinkered to the obvious unintended consequences of this regulatory overreach, either through ignorance or ideology or most likely, both.
There is then a hiatus on commentary about Affordability, with the Commission’s Annual Report and Accounts 2019-20 published on the 12th December 2020, delayed due to Covid-19, not even mentioning it. The following year’s Annual Report and Accounts 2020 to 2021 just states that: ‘In May 2020, and whilst recognising the difficulties operators have had to face, this included instructing tighter measures to protect consumers such as banning reverse withdrawals and requesting improved affordability checks with more people being based at home due to lockdown’. More surprisingly, the Raising Standards for consumers - Compliance and Enforcement report 2020 to 2021 published on the 9th December 2021 has no mention of Affordability even though it was given its own section and played a prominent part through the two years previous reports. This may well have been due to the strength of the criticism that the Commission had been receiving in its consultation.
On the 14th April 2022 the Commission published its Remote customer interaction - Consultation and Call for Evidence - Feedback updated which stated:
We received around 13,000 responses to the consultation and short survey. Responses came from a wide range of stakeholders - consumers, people with lived experience of harm, gambling businesses, academics and others.
We have carefully reviewed the responses. There were a wide range of views. Many people think there should be protections in place for the most vulnerable and that appropriate checks should be in place to identify and prevent cases of clearly unaffordable gambling. Many respondents emphasised that measures should be proportionate and targeted at those at risk of harm. At the same time, customers were also concerned about privacy and freedom of choice.
It was clear that the Commission should continue as planned with a further consultation on the topic of unaffordable gambling to allow these issues to be explored further.
To the actual consultation question, Question 7: To what extent do you agree with the proposal that remote operators should be required to conduct affordability assessments at thresholds set by the Commission? The Commission gave a precis of the responses which should, I believe, be subject to further investigation:
There was a wide range of views relating to assessments to identify unaffordable gambling. There were significant concerns about consumer privacy and freedom and calls for any such measures to therefore be targeted at the customers who are most at risk, and not general or what was often described as ‘leisure consumers’. Some stakeholders were strongly in favour of assessments to identify unaffordable gambling and called for the assessments to apply to all customers. We will explore these issues further in a future consultation which will consider requirements that will tackle three key and significant risks - unaffordable binge gambling, significant unaffordable losses over time, and identifying customers who are in a particularly financially vulnerable situation.
The Commission would give their position as:
We will explore the issue of identifying unaffordable gambling and customers at significant risk of financial harm further in a future consultation. This consultation will consider requirements that will tackle three key and significant risks - unaffordable binge gambling, significant unaffordable losses over time, and identifying customers who are in a particularly financially vulnerable situation. We will work closely with Government to ensure that the consultation proposals are set in the wider context of the Government’s Review of the Gambling Act 2005.
The consultation proposed an extensive overhaul of the Customer Interaction LCCP with the addition of LCCP 3.4.3 which maintained the operator having to take into account Guidance Notes but added an additional eleven regulations specifying how an operator must identify, interact and evaluate with their customers. It also introduced the ill-defined concepts of harm or potential harm, low level indicators of harm and stronger indicators of harm and the even more ridiculous concept than Affordability, Vulnerability. This new LCCP was due to come in to force on September 12th 2022.
On 20th June 2022, the Commission published its new Guidance to accompany the new LCCP which was also planned to come into force on the 12th September 2022. This Guidance mentions Affordability in a different way then it had been dealt with before:
Further customer interaction consultation: the Commission has committed to a consultation on how to tackle three key financial risks for customers. These are significant unaffordable losses over a short period (binge gambling), significant unaffordable losses over time, and customers who are in a financially vulnerable situation. Following the consultation on these new requirements, this guidance will be updated.
But Affordability is still in the picture. LCCP 18.104.22.168 states:
Licensees must consider the factors that might make a customer more vulnerable to experiencing gambling harms and implement systems and processes to take appropriate and timely action where indicators of vulnerability are identified. Licensees must take account of the Commission’s approach to vulnerability as set out in the Commission’s Guidance.
This is explained in the Guidance Notes as the operator identifying if a customer is vulnerable and if deemed so, staking limits should be imposed and if warranted, the business relationship ended. Why I have called Vulnerability as a more ridiculous concept than affordability is because it is almost impossible to achieve. The Commission considers Vulnerability to be where a customer suffers from the following issues based on the following factors:
Personal and demographic: if the individual is experiencing poor physical or mental health, physical or cognitive impairment, suffering side effects from a brain injury or medication or has an addiction. If a customer is a young adult, or an older adult.
Situational: if the individual is experiencing financial difficulties, is homeless, is suffering from domestic or financial abuse, has caring responsibilities, experiences a life change or sudden change in circumstances.
Behavioural: if an individual has a higher than standard level of trust or high appetite for risk. In the case of gambling, this can be flagged if the customer takes a high-risk strategy, particularly if inexperienced; if the customer takes a disproportionate effort to earn a bonus offer.
Market related: if an individual is engaged in an activity which is highly complex; that they have a lack of knowledge and/or experience of the market.
Access: if an individual has difficulty accessing information because of poor literacy or numeracy skills, knowledge, dyslexia.
The Commission almost accepts that to find out if a customer, using the Internet, suffers from such vulnerabilities is nigh on impossible by stating that:
We recognise that licensees may not always have information available to them to identify vulnerability. However, we expect licensees to:
• consider the factors that might make their customers more vulnerable to experiencing gambling harm.
• understand whether a customer is at greater risk of experiencing gambling harm and to what extent
• take timely action in response to the information they have available.
Licensees can have a significant amount of interaction with customers through:
• Customer processes such as verification of age and identity, assessment of affordability and source of funds for anti-money laundering purposes.
• Customer services
• Customer chat rooms and forums
• Resolving complaints
What is bizarre about this is not only that the Commission thinks an operator will be able to work out if a customer is particularly gullible or suffering cognitive impairment or has suffered a bereavement from their purely online use of the website but that usually with online gambling, the process of verification of age and identity is automated and the assessment of affordability, unless requiring the bank statements and payslips that the Gaslighter General refuses to believe happens, is also usually automated. The Commission is putting a lot of weight on customer interaction whether it be during chat or support for the customer to admit to their vulnerabilities. Its almost like the Commission just wants to add more friction to gamblers gambling regardless of its relevance or applicability?
What is critical is the statement ‘the assessment of affordability’ which implies it is still a blanket tool there to gauge Vulnerability. It also appears in the Guidance notes as an example:
Compliance and enforcement – lessons to be learnt from cases involving customers in a vulnerable situation 2
A gambling customer is asked to provide information on source of funds to support an affordability assessment and provides information about a medical claim. The licensee does not consider whether the medical issues mean that the customer is in a vulnerable situation.
But more unequivocally, it is used in the Guidance notes when referring to LCCP 22.214.171.124:
Licensees must have in place effective systems and processes to monitor customer activity to identify harm or potential harm associated with gambling, from the point when an account is opened.
The Guidance notes for this requirement states:
Licensees must identify customers that may be at risk of harm using all of the information available about the customer. This means balancing all the financial, time and behavioural indicators and applying knowledge about their overall customer base and individual customers. There is a wide and growing evidence base about patterns of spend and behaviour that are linked to risk
It goes on to give a full blown description of how affordability should be implemented:
Historically, gambling licensees have not systematically considered customer affordability when developing their customer interaction policies. Many have used deposit or loss thresholds as a main or sole prompt for a customer interaction, but these have often been set at levels that were inappropriately high, in comparison to the average amount of money that the majority of people have available to spend on leisure activities. This has led to a number of examples of customers spending more than they could afford, and this not being identified sufficiently early, as seen in much of the Commission’s compliance and enforcement casework .
Open source data exists which can help licensees assess affordability for their GB customer base and improve their risk assessment for customer interactions. Thresholds should be realistic, based on average available income for your customers. This should include the Office of National Statistics publications on levels of household income.
In considering these thresholds, you should be aware of the difference between ‘disposable income’ and ‘discretionary income’ which refers to the amount left after living costs are taken into account, but it does still include many other unavoidable costs. Most people would consider it harmful if they were spending a significant proportion of their discretionary income on gambling. We expect that guidance on financial risk will be updated following further consultation on measures to address gambling harm associated with financial risks of binge gambling; clearly unaffordable gambling over time and financial vulnerability. Licensees should be considering how they manage those risks now
On page 16 it even gives a ‘A visualisation of the categories of indicators of harm which are required, and the subcategories which should be considered’. For the Customer Spend category it gives ‘Amounts spent, taking into account affordability’ and ‘Amounts spent compared to other consumers’.
Thus Affordability arguably remains as a central part of the LCCP 126.96.36.199, where it considers Customer Spend as an indicator of harm and Affordability as the tool with which potential harm is assessed. The prescription of what the actual monetary thresholds are appears to be in abeyance but the concept of blanket Affordability checks remains unlike the Guidance notes, for on the 2nd September 2022, just ten days before both the new LCCP and the guidance notes were supposed to come into force the Commission announced ‘New remote Customer Interaction requirements and guidance update’. This stated that:
The industry has requested an extension to the timeframe for implementing these new requirements. This is due to the technical challenges that some remote operators indicate they are facing in delivering full compliance by the 12 September 2022 deadline.
After careful consideration, we have decided that the majority of the new requirements will come into force as planned on 12 September. Remote gambling operators are already subject to a duty to conduct effective customer interaction, and the new requirements reflect the minimum steps that we consider are necessary to meet that duty.
This meant that the Guidance Notes were withdrawn and so was the obligation for licensees to take them into account. The remaining parts of LCCP 3.4.3 would come in to force on 12th September 2022 with the exception requirement 2, which states Licensees must take into account the Guidance notes and requirement 3, which states:
Licensees must consider the factors that might make a customer more vulnerable to experiencing gambling harms and implement systems and processes to take appropriate and timely action where indicators of vulnerability are identified. Licensees must take account of the Commission’s approach to vulnerability as set out in the Commission’s Guidance.
This could strengthen the argument that Affordability had been removed as a large part of the Guidance Notes guidance on requirement 3 were to do with Affordability, as shown above, but this has to be tempered by the fact that requirement no. 4, still remains active, with Customer Spend an indicator of harm or potential harm. The pertinent question is that if 188.8.131.52 is active but the Guidance Notes have been withdrawn, does their explanation that Customer Spend as an indicator of harm is about comparing a customers spend with that of other customers and potential harm by conducting an affordability check to see if they could be spending more than they can afford. This is financial vulnerability, not having enough money, but as stated, the Commission’s guidance on vulnerability has been withdrawn. It’s all very confusing.
A gnarled and wizened old bookmaker said to me that if Andrew Rhodes had quite clearly stated that Affordability was never imposed and the Guidance Notes that include Affordability have been withdrawn then there is no Affordability and they weren’t using it on their customers.
I have some sympathy with this robust approach but I am reminded of the story of when the Nazis had occupied the Netherlands during the Second World War and the Gestapo told their female captives that they should confess their crimes as Nazi Germany didn’t execute women. The wise ones knew that a totalitarian regime holds on to power through its use of terror and that they would be executed any way regardless of their gender. I fear the Commission will use not imposing Affordability as a crime for operators in the future and use LCCP 184.108.40.206 as the reason regardless of such administrative issues as the CEO saying it never existed. The Commission isn’t there for liberal, evidence based action – see all articles previous for examples
What the Commission did was start another consultation or extend the previous one, both apply, on the 22nd November 2022, Remote customer interaction - consultation on guidance document which would be closed on 23rd January 2023. This again would not be looking at Affordability for some reason:
The following issues are not within the scope of this consultation exercise:
• the requirements of SR Code Provision 3.4.3 itself.
• matters associated with unaffordable gambling and the specific thresholds which should apply. The Commission has committed to a separate consultation on the three key financial risks which it has identified in that context: significant unaffordable losses over a short period (binge gambling), significant unaffordable losses over a sustained period, and customers who are particularly financially vulnerable.
After stating that the Commission doesn’t believe that its right at this time for the Commission to set thresholds on each indicator of harm, presumably because this would need far more substance and scientific evidence to what they consider are harms and at what level they become strong indicators as opposed to low level, the things that operators are desperate to have explained, they state:
As set out earlier in this consultation , the Commission has indicated that it plans to consult on the three key financial risks associated with significant unaffordable gambling in the future. We have received queries about how the guidance will treat this topic in the meantime.
At paragraph 4F of the proposed guidance document, we have replicated content which appeared in the 2019 customer interaction guidance document (connected with SR Code Provision 3.4.1). We therefore propose to keep the guidance on unaffordable gambling consistent with that previous guidance until the matter has been explored in the forthcoming consultation.
This strengthens the argument that Affordability is still in place as per the 2019 Guidance Notes although this would based on the argument that this is a statement of the Commission published on 22nd November 2022 and is therefore in effect. A counter argument could be that until a response to this consultation is published this is not the case or that the Gaslighter General’s comments of February 2023 over ride this and Affordability no longer exists is the case. Again, this is all very confusing and definitely in breach of the Regulators Code:
5. Regulators should ensure clear information, guidance and advice is available to help those they regulate meet their responsibilities to comply
Where we are now is that it is very unclear where we are regarding Affordability, but the strength of evidence does suggest that it is still in place even though the CEO of the Commission doesn’t seem to think this has ever been the case. I would recommend my readers look at the work of top gambling lawyers, Wiggin, who have shown up all sorts of problems with the Guidance Notes and you do get the impression they are not fit for regulatory purpose. Click here to read their thoughts. As always I would also recommend signing up to the Regulus Partners Winning Post newsletter as this is the most insightful when it comes to just how poorly we are regulated as an industry, click here for their website.
I have purposefully left DCMS statements on affordability until last. That is because I would argue that Affordability Checks are so significant that they are effectively a change in government policy that has been brought in by the regulator with no recourse or scrutiny by Parliament. This is anti-democratic and direct impingement on the rights of British citizens. The ideological zeal to reduce the number of problem gamblers when problem gambling rates are the lowest ever and lowest globally only goes to seriously restrict the enjoyment of millions from a legitimate recreational pursuit. The balance between freedom to gamble and protecting the vulnerable was sorted in the Budd Review and by the passing of the Gambling Act. The Puritan cabal of Rhodes, Gardner and Miller are there solely to enforce gambling regulation, not to rip up the way we regulate gambling simply because they are ideologically opposed to it.
DCMS needs to step in as the government Department with responsibility to Parliament. Unfortunately, this is the problem. It does appear that how gambling is treated is subject to the ideological whims of the gambling Minister. As can be seen when Chris Philp MP was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Tech and the Digital Economy which bizarrely incorporated gambling at DCMS, from the 16th September 2021 – 7th July 2022. Philp had previous form for being anti-gambling, writing in 2017, the foreword in a report by ResPublica, paid for by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, called Wheel of Misfortune: The case for lowering the stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. This was written by James Noyes who has taken his paid lackey of Derek Webb status on to the Social Market Foundation and come out with equally preposterous reports, that attempt to dress up a blatantly anti-gambling ideology with intellectual over-reach. Philp also threw protocol out of the window by appearing at the 8th March 2022, Gambling Reform Rally organised by the Gambling Related Harm APPG and Peers for Gambling Reform, both funded by Derek Webb. For a Minister involved in a Review of the Gambling laws to so blatantly align himself with the anti-gambling lobby is unheard of and should have been sanctioned. Regarding Affordability he would state:
It goes without saying that any data shared as part of the Single Customer View, or gathered to check on a customer's financial circumstances, should only be used for the purposes of harm prevention. Under no circumstances should it be used for commercial purposes. But it's also important to make sure that this work is proportionate. It wouldn't be appropriate or proportionate to have intrusive checks for someone who is betting relatively small amounts of money on the Grand National. But there are definitely levels of more significant gambling losses where proper checks should be done. That is the kind of intervention we're looking at, in a way that is proportionate and balanced. Obviously there are legitimate customer concerns about privacy that need to be balanced with the imperative to prevent harm. We're going to make sure that balance is struck in a reasonable way.
In May 2022, the Parliamentary All Party Betting & Gaming Group met with Philp. He was proposing a tiered approach for mandatory Affordability Checks using electronic solutions which the customer would not see although have to consent to. At the bottom tier, he saw checks being made using open access databases, then checks similar to soft credit checks. Although thresholds were not discussed, the rumour at this time was the first trigger would be at £500 with automated checks and if that was failed, mandatory staking limits would be set. There would then be thresholds at £1000, for a soft credit check and at £1,500 full request for financial documents and the need for two independent affordability check suppliers to confirm they could afford it. Else mandatory staking limits imposed.
Now compare this to the not anti-gambling Paul Scully MP, who was also Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Tech and the Digital Economy, with responsibility for gambling, from 27th October 2022 to 7th February 2023. He made the following comments at the Betting and Gaming Council Annual General Meeting on the 26th January 2023:
The first is that ‘affordability checks’ is the wrong title for the protections we’re envisaging. That word suggests that the government or Gambling Commission are going to set rules on how much people can ‘afford’ to gamble.
Let me be really clear here, it is not the role of government or the gambling commission to tell people how much of their salary they are “allowed to” spend on gambling.
A one size fits all approach is not the intention here. It may be more accurate to call them ‘financial risk’ checks - checking that a higher than usual level of spend is not itself an indicator of harm.
The Commission has already identified key areas of concern, for example particularly vulnerable customers who can be harmed by even quite small losses - perhaps they have been declared bankrupt.
Alongside that is high spending binge behaviour with the potential for lasting financial harm, and high sustained losses over a longer period of time.
I also think ‘financial risk’ is a more appropriate term as a consideration of financial circumstances can only ever reveal that one type of risk - financial.
So we can expect a name change and an end to a blanket approach? Possibly? In the meeting with the Minister and Parliamentary All Party Betting & Gaming Group in December 2022, Scully was very supportive of the idea that overly intrusive and unnecessary financial checks would stimulate a Black Market and stated that the Affordability plans being considered at that point would effect only 3% of gamblers.
Unfortunately Scully was moved on and we have a new Secretary of State and a new Gambling Minister, Stuart Andrew MP. There has been no commentary on Affordability, just the rumour that the Gambling Review is try to be published before Easter recess (30th March). The fact that the new Secretary of State has been saying warm words about the disinformation spread by Gambling With Lives does not bode well and she has hinted that there may be more delays. How Affordability will be dealt with by DCMS remains anyone’s guess at the moment.
So to conclude, we probably do have Affordability in place right now and it will definitely come back and Andrew Rhodes, Gaslighter General does not speak the truth.
 European Union News, 08/03/2022, Gambling Reform Rally speech.