In 2020, the UKGC recognised GamStop as the national self-exclusion scheme from all forms of online gambling. Shortly after, it required all gambling operators to integrate this scheme to achieve its purpose. By the end of March 2020, all gambling operators were notified that fully integrations with GamStop require their licences and social responsibility code provision 3.5.5.
Thus, players can keep themselves away from all forms of virtual gambling with one request only. Despite that there were other exclusion services launched before GamStop, they have serious loopholes that defeat their purpose and limit their efficiency. Therefore, the UKGC chose GamStop over the others. However, the key challenge is the acceptance and integration of GamStop at all gambling sites, recognizing the harms of the problem gambling and the need to put an end to it.
According to the official stats, the UKGC has issued more than 3,600 for online gambling companies since its inception in 2005 till now. And at least there are more than 300 gambling sites operating in the country.
You can imagine how difficult it is to monitor such a large number of sites on a daily basis, so the UKGC relies heavily on customer complaints to capture sites that have breached their regulatory standards.
As for the GamStop integration requirement, most sites have implemented it (or so it seems!) while some others have stalled, and these sites have been severely punished. There are even sites that have targeted self-excluded players, which is completely unethical and they have paid millions of pounds in fines!
The UKGC released its annual compliance report for 2020-2021. This report revealed that the commission had suspended licenses for five sites, and cancelled the license of one site. In addition, the committee stated that it received £32.1 million in fines owed on these sites. One of the most prominent sanctioned operators was the William Hill Company, the owner of Mr Green’s, which paid a £3m fine.
William Hill has paid a fine of £3 million which is a whopping 10% of the total amount of the year’s fines! The UKGC said the company had “failed to protect gambling addicts”. Although the investigations were initially aimed at revealing the means and methods used by the company in attracting addicted players, the investigations revealed much more than that! The British Gambling Commission said the company had no effective procedures in place to verify that customers were using legitimate sources of money for their deposits.
In addition, in its investigation, the committee revealed “systematic failures” in implementing KYC and anti-money laundering protocols. For example, the company did not freeze the account of a player who won £50,000 but rather allowed him to continue playing before he withdraws his accumulated winnings. The company has also accepted a 10-year payment document of £176,000 as ‘satisfactory proof’ of the source of funds for a client who has deposited more than £1m!
William Hill is the ninth company to face severe penalties from the British Gaming Commission for failing the three basic protocols: (protecting vulnerable groups, verifying players’ identity, and preventing money laundering).
Since 2018, the UKGC has issued more than £20 million in penalties.
On March 31, 2020, the British Gaming Commission required operators to fully integrate with GamStop. Then, in April, it quickly responded to lag behind sites by blocking their licenses for non-compliance.
“We have made clear to operators that we will use our powers to protect consumers even if we have to revoke the company’s license completely,” said Neil MacArthur, CEO of the Gambling Commission.
He continued, “GamStop is an effective self-exclusion based on the idea of social responsibility for everyone. So we made it mandatory for all UK sites by March 31.”
There is no penalty yet for not fully participating in GamStop, but the Commission is suspending operator licenses until they can be sure the operator is serious about integrating GamStop.
After the site integrates GameStop, it must share all of its databases with the service. Likewise, the service must share all of its data with it. Whenever a player registers a new account or logs into their already registered account, the gambling operator must ensure that it is not on GamStop. Usually, the verification process takes up to 24 hours, and if it is proven that the player is on GamStop, the site must immediately block his account.
There are a lot of weaknesses in GamStop. Firstly, it does not cover offshore gambling operators. In addition, it does not cover lottery sites, lotto syndicates, and football fantasy sites.
On occasion, UK sites intentionally suspend integration with GamStop in order to preserve their player base, and the commission may not notice this. According to the same GamStop stats, 10% of all gamblers have attempted to return to play at least once during the self-exclusion period.