Exclusive Q&A with Warren Russell CEO/W2 Global Data
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Why is affordability such a focus right now and especially in the UK?

Since the 2005 Gambling Act has been under review from late 2020, affordability has been heavily discussed as being a central part of any changes to requirements that might be brought into force. It has become increasingly common for operators to be fined for failings relating to player protection and safer gambling – the Gambling Commission has handed out more than £54m in fines over the past two years alone – and many stakeholders believe these issues could be mitigated or greatly reduced with more comprehensive and robust affordability requirements.

 

Is it really key to helping better protect players? Or does it need to be combined with other additional safeguards?

Affordability has the potential to greatly improve player protections and ensure players are gambling responsibly. That is why as a result of the review of the 2005 Gambling Act affordability checks will likely become a key requirement for operators to support both their own player protection initiatives and their customers. But affordability is not the only saving grace for the industry. All areas of the industry must come together and collaborate on efforts and technologies in order to fully implement change. In short, affordability is just one piece of the puzzle that makes up comprehensive player protection processes and protocols.

 

What are the current requirements for UK operators regarding affordability? How might that change?

Currently, the Gambling Commission sees affordability as identifying vulnerable players and limiting the amount of marketing that operators can target at them. Regulation is quite ambiguous, so different operators have a different understanding of what is expected of them. But affordability requirements will undoubtedly be more clearly defined following the review of the 2005 Gambling Act. The Gambling Commission has directly said that affordability checks are something it is heavily focused on within the review and that it will play a more centralised role in its updated regulations.

 

How can operators meet these requirements without impacting the player experience? How does your Affordability for Gambling Tool help in this regard?

It all comes down to striking the right balance between player experience and player protection. With problem gambling continuing to rise, more focus needs to be placed on protecting players over the experience that is provided to them, at least to a certain extent. W2’s solution helps operators to strike this balance; it works seamlessly in the background of the onboarding journey or based on various markers of harm triggers so as to not impact the player’s journey. Of course, if something which needs investigating comes back from the affordability check, it is the responsibility of the operator to deal with it further.

 

Do you think the UK market is heading towards over-regulation? What about specifically when it comes to affordability?

As mentioned above, it is all about balance. I wouldn’t say it is heading towards over-regulation, but we can’t be naïve to the fact that operators need to balance player protection with commercial viability. Some current affordability solutions such as open banking (which requires players to agree to give their bank data) could be considered as impacting the player experience too much. A player could simply go to another operator if they don’t want to take the extra steps to pass affordability.

Our solution works seamlessly enough in the background to prevent the player experience from being impacted by affordability checks, whilst still ensuring that operators can truly protect players. It can be a fine line to tread, but that is why we have developed our affordability solution so that operators can be confident they are protecting players while also not negatively impacting their experience to the point where they go to another brand that is perhaps not as stringent in its affordability requirements and checks.

 

Do you think other regulated markets will look to tighten requirements around affordability?

The consultation from the Gambling Commission is being closely watched by regulators around the world. The UK gambling industry is being used as the litmus test for how safer gambling initiatives should be moving forwards. With regulated gambling rolling out across the US, and countries such as the Netherlands opening up their own online gambling marketplace in 2021, it is highly likely these jurisdictions will swiftly follow updated regulations should the work of the UK Gambling Commission be a success.

 

How can operators prepare for any changes that might come now?

It is often overlooked just how much work operators are currently undertaking when it comes to their player protection initiatives. The real issue within the industry at present is the lack of clarity and understanding as to what best-practice safe gaming actually looks like. The review of the Gambling Act has been rumbling on for two years now (with further delays likely due to Boris Johnson’s departure) and quite frankly the industry is still struggling. That is why collaboration between stakeholders is going to be key. W2’s affordability is one part of what the industry needs as a whole, but we believe it can significantly assist operators in protecting players when combined with what those companies are already doing from a safer gambling perspective.