INTERVIEW BY JIM CREMIN - TUESDAY 6TH FEBRUARY 2018
Tim Miller joined the Gambling Commission in August 2016, building on over 15 years of experience across the regulatory and public sector. He was previously Head of Policy and Communications at the Local Government Ombudsman and prior to that was Head of Public Affairs at the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. These roles followed ten years with the Law Society of England and Wales in a variety of regulatory posts.
He is Chair of Coventry Citizens Advice, one of the largest CABs in the country. He was also founding Chair of the Central Schools Trust, a multi-academy trust that runs several primary schools across Solihull.
TIM MILLER, Executive Director of the Gambling Commission, expects everyone to get behind proper player protection and fairness around terms and conditions.
Speaking shortly before opening the new Consumer Protection Zone at Ice 2018, staged at London's ExCeL every February, he pulled no punches in saying he did not wish to hear operators or anyone involved with the business complaining about what other sectors of the gambling industry are doing. “Let’s be clear, everyone needs to put their own house in order. Gambling related harm is the real focus for us . . . and must be for all. Nothing is ‘risk free’, but let’s have a sharp focus on making it safer. Whilst it is positive that a single self exclusion scheme is to be launched for on-line, we want to see more action around prevention and for companies to act and intervene before a person reaches that point.”
He called for more research/treatment. “We want to see better understanding of the effects problem gambling can have on the public purse, including the NHS, criminal justice system and local government. For instance, what is the impact on a business of an employee’s behaviour who has a gambling problem? There are around 2m people who are problem gamblers or at risk of developing a problem," Miller said.
Turning to misleading offers, he argued: “Everyone needs to be more rigorous in ensuring customers fully understand the terms of an offer . . . the fact is the small print often makes these confusing. I’m pleased that both the CMA and ourselves at the Gambling Commission are working together to ensure these are more transparent.
“Let’s see more action respond to the concerns of players and move towards a single ombudsman to consider complaints - the system for these is not currently working well enough.”
In his formal speech to those present at Ice he then described his “genuine pleasure to be invited to open the first ever Consumer Protection Zone, although a pleasure tinged with the disappointment that I don’t have a giant pair of scissors to cut a ribbon with. For everyone knows that oversized scissors are a clear sign that you have truly made it in life!
“Let me briefly explain the background to Consumer Protection Zone. Any of you that follow the work of the Gambling Commission will know that we have been challenging the industry to do more to demonstrate their commitment to putting the consumer interest at the heart of their businesses. But that is a commitment that should not be limited to gambling operators- all of us that work in or around this industry have a role to play.
“I am delighted that Clarion, the organisers of Ice, responded to our call for action by handing over part of the exhibition floor to organisations that promote and protect the rights of consumers and to showcase developments that seek to make gambling less harmful.
“And so, as we stand in the Consumer Protection Zone for the first time it is perhaps helpful to reflect on what we mean by consumer protection. In the context of the gambling industry, it has two elements to it both of which are embedded in the very legislation that established the Gambling Commission and which guide the way we regulate.
“The first is ensuring that gambling is fair and open. We know that well-functioning markets are ones where consumers are engaged, emboldened and empowered. In our recently published strategy (see below) we set out our aspirations for gambling to become such a market.”
Miller explained there is a long way to go in making this a reality. “Our work with the Competition and Markets Authority has shown that many consumers have been left battling through a labyrinth of terms and conditions that are unclear, bamboozling and weighted too heavily against their interests.
“Consumers have also been concerned about unsolicited marketing that has bombarded their phones and inboxes. And we have been working closely with the Information Commission to address this.
“Equally, consumers also have to face a complaints system in gambling, made up of a plethora of dispute resolution providers, that does not reflect the principles that consumers have come to expect from modern ombudsman schemes - independence; fairness; effectiveness; transparency and accountability. Yet another area where we are actively pursuing greater protections.
“To be clear, we will continue to use our powers to intervene on a precautionary basis if products, licensees or processes give rise to concerns. But I hope that won’t always be necessary. In particular I hope that the Consumer Protection Zone might provide an opportunity for like-minded individuals, with a commitment to the consumer interest, to come together; to share ideas; to learn from best practice across the globe; to work together to make gambling fairer."
Miller said that the second element of consumer protection is preventing harm from being caused to consumers themselves, and the wider public. "If you walk around the exhibition hall today, you will see the exciting side of gambling clearly on display - the side of gambling that can be a fun, leisure activity, enjoyed by many. What you won’t see so visibly is the impact that gambling has when play becomes problematic. When it ceases to be a leisure activity and becomes a vehicle for harm.
“Gambling related harms are impacting upon societies across the world- damaging individual gamblers, their friends and families, their employers, their communities. The Gambling Commission has a clearly stated aim to provide leadership to forge a sustained, world-leading approach to tackling gambling-related harms.
“Through expecting operators to build in protections so that their products and services are safer rather than just focussing on mitigating harms after they have arisen. Through working with partners nationally and internationally to better understand the scale of gambling related harms and their impact on society. Through putting in place a more effective approach to funding research, education and treatment so that Britain no longer lags behind its international peers.
“In the Consumer Protection Zone this week you will hear from a range of people who are seeking to make progress in this space. From charities like GamCare, who provide treatment services for problem gambling; from companies like GamBan, who have developed apps that aim to give people the ability to block gambling from their devices, and from businesses within the gambling industry who are starting to use technology to give consumers more information and control over their gambling activities. I am really pleased that ICE 2018 is giving their work a platform."
Whist he said it was great that there was a Consumer Protection Zone for the first time, "wouldn’t it be even better if we didn’t need one at all. Real success in making progress on consumer protection would be seeing it front and centre of every stand, every presentation, every speech at this conference. And so here is a challenge for us all…
“If you are here today, then you have an interest in gambling. If you have an interest in gambling, then you have a role to play in helping to make it fairer and safer. So please, take the time to visit the stands in the Consumer Protection Zone, look at the work that people are doing, and speak to each other about what you can do. Come away from this conference with more than just some free stationery and a collection of business cards. Come away with a commitment, a passion, an unquenchable thirst to make gambling fairer and safer.”
Kate Chambers, MD of Clarion's Gaming Division, responded: "Wherever Clarion Gaming operates in the world this subject is now at the top of our agenda."
Richard Flint, chief executive of Sky Bet, agreed that the industry can and should do more to help vulnerable customers: “Operators needed to promote safer gambling through self-help tools while also increasing interventions to stop customers harming themselves in the most extreme cases.
"Yes, this will lead to more difficult conversations with customers who don’t like their behaviour being challenged. And it will lead to greater lost revenues from customers who spend less than they otherwise would.
"We should also accept that, in the fast moving world of technology, our industry won’t always get everything right, every time. But it’s the best way to protect customers, the best way to minimise potential harm, and the best way to a sustainable industry."
Flint said the only way to protect UK customers was for this to be regulated by the Gambling Commission. "These measures, together with the establishment and successful operation of GamStop – the one-stop shop for self-exclusion – will provide a fair and consistent approach from all operators to those who may develop problems with their gambling," he added.
Ron Hearn, the Racing Post/SIS Betting Shop Manager of the Year, had listened carefully to Miller. Hearn said: "Everyone is working hard to sort this problem - there is a huge amount of activity within my shop alone [JennnigsBet, Charlton] that monitors behaviour and anything out of the usual. Everyone has to play their part."
Gambling Commission strategy published last November:
Our aspirations for a fairer and safer gambling market. We want consumers to be:
- empowered to make informed choices about gambling
- fully informed of, and able to make use of, their rights
- free to enjoy gambling and to feel confident that they will be treated fairly
- aware of the risks and clear about when and how to seek help or redress
- able to differentiate between operators in a competitive market on the basis of customer care and values.
We want the wider public to:
- have a well-informed view of how gambling (including lotteries) can entertain and contribute to society, but also have the potential to cause harm to individuals, families and the wider public.
We want gambling businesses, those who lead them and who hold personal licences to:
- set the tone from the top and lead a culture of compliance and commitment to doing the right thing for consumers that resonates with staff
- strive to continuously raise their standards and at all times treat customers fairly
- resolutely work to reduce the risk of harm from gambling
- invest in and use data, technology and measures to identify harmful play, design in protections and intervene early to guard against consumer harm and prevent crime
- innovate to protect, as much as for profit
- actively identify and manage risk, and evidence this at every stage.
- continue to be independent and evidence-led
- take a targeted and innovative approach to regulating in a way which is consistent with our statutory objectives
- use our knowledge and experience to influence and inform public debate
- intervene, taking precautionary action where this is necessary
- give leadership on cross-cutting issues within our remit, such as tackling gambling-related harm
- set minimum standards and codify best practice
- use our powers to the full, reflecting Parliament’s intentions
- look outwards to build effective partnerships internationally, as well as locally, with key regulators and stakeholders.