Andrew Rhodes: operators need to be competitive to grow in the UK market
The UK Gambling Commission’s Chief Executive, Andrew Rhodes, told ICE delegates that the regulator is ready to govern ‘a settled market’ after adjusting to three years of COVID fallout.
Delivering a keynote speech at the ICE London 2023 expo, Rhodes expressed that his leadership would prioritise better research and date, to secure improved analysis and action on all areas of the gambling industry.
With the new year well underway, the UKGC’s recent data has suggested “gambling may well have settled into a new normal” despite the surrounding economic challenges facing the nation.
In his speech entitled ‘latest research shaping regulatory decisions in UK gambling’, Rhodes explained: “As of September 2022, overall participation in any gambling activity, in the last four weeks, remains statistically stable at 44 per cent compared to September 2021.”
“Within that, the level of online gambling has continued its long-term trend up to 27 per cent and this is matched by land-based gambling as well.”
“The overall headline problem gambling rate is statistically stable as well, although more on those numbers later. So there is no explosion in online gambling, as participation has not gone through the roof in recent years.
“This means operators need to be that bit more competitive and innovative if they want to continue to grow in the British market. Or they need to diversify abroad…The truth is both are happening.”
Since the pandemic, the UK’s gambling market has become saturated with the top three operators having increased their market share to over 50 per cent, while the nation’s top 10 brands have accounted for 77 per cent of the B2C market’s overall GGY.
Despite the dominance shown by market share gains, Rhodes revealed that “the largest operator groups are stating revenues are down due to safer gambling measures they are introducing. Now we aren’t saying these groups are getting everything right, but this is a development that has our attention.”
Rhodes also stated that compliance measures have impacted the competitive make-up of the UK space, in which the UKGC continues to gather at source data “detailing just how different each consumer can be.”
He said: “Amongst the largest operators in the British market, we have seen some interesting changes which are pretty consistent across those larger operators, who are seeing GGY fall by just under 16 per cent. The amount of money staked is down by just over 13 per cent.”
“We have seen the number of players losing over £500 a month drop by nearly eight per cent, and those losing over £200 a month by a little over two per cent. Whilst players staking £50 and over per spin for slots fall by 76 per cent. Some operators have seen this reduce by over 90 per cent, with the largest drop being over 98 per cent.”
“Yet despite reporting GGY declines, data reveals that larger operators continue to register an increased volume in bets (+five per cent) and active player numbers of six per cent.”
With this in mind, the Commission’s Chief Executive stated that it would not be wise to draw ‘particular conclusions’ on player activity impacting operators’ financial performance while the space undergoes a transitional phase for its companies and their engagement with players.
Rhodes commented: “Given the number of bets being placed with the largest five operators increased by four billion and the number of active accounts by some four million, it doesn’t suggest there is a flood away from gambling either, but clearly some patterns have changed during the last year.”
This year, the UKGC has turned its attention to implementing affordability checks/controls – in which Rhodes highlighted “misinformation circulating about the Commission’s position on the issue of affordability”.
Rhodes’ defence of the Commission’s attitude towards affordability may be in response to recent criticism from organisations such as the BGC, who claimed that blanked affordability checks may pose a threat to the betting and gaming market.
Reinforcing the UKGC’s stance on the issue of affordability, Rhodes explained: “It is for operators to set limits themselves based on their customer types, business and risks. It is also for operators to take responsibility for preventing the sorts of cases I mentioned above from occurring in the first place.”
The speech at ICE also detailed how the regulator has been looking at launching better data research and new initiatives, with the UKGC set to host its first ‘Setting the Evidence Agenda’ in March to bring operators and academics together and analyse how gambling governance can be improved.
Rhodes concluded: “Better evidence will mean better outcomes…The Gambling Act Review of course will also have a big part to play in our plans. We continue to work with DCMS and will continue to take action to protect consumers where needed.
“Better research, better data and better evidence will drive better regulation and better outcomes for consumers. Let’s work together on that.”