A number of challenges have been brought to the attention of the UK Gambling Commission and the government in its review of the Gambling Act 2005. And these challenges need to be met head on and tackled if the country’s gambling scene is to go through any kind of helpful transition. This is, after all, what the review of the act is all about – to ensure that the regulations and legislation are in keeping with the times. One of the tasks at hand is to make sure that the gambling industry provides a safer environment for players.
On February 11, 2020, the Gambling Commission kick started this initiative, with over 100 experts attending an event in Birmingham to discuss the challenges associated with achieving what is determined as a ‘single customer view’ (SCV). In essence, this would create a single industry-wide solution to be able to assist with reducing gambling-related harm, and this would be enforced particularly in areas where customers hold more than one online account. The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) supported this move, with representatives from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) also being in attendance at the event.
What is this all about and how is it expected to work in the UK’s gambling scene? What challenges is the Commission having to take into consideration? And how does it intend to tackle those issues to provide the single customer view in the end? Join us as we take a closer look at this idea and how it is expected to unfold.
What is a ‘Single Customer View’?
The development of a SCV solution would enable an approach to viewing a customer’s online gambling behaviour holistically. Through it, the necessary help would be in place to reduce gambling harms.
Basically, it would enable a cross-operator view into a customer’s activity, and therefore help to identify and prevent any potential gambling harms of those with accounts at multiple different gambling companies.
Research has displayed that online gamblers possess three separate accounts on average, and younger gamblers tend to hold even more. That same research also provides evidence that there is an increased risk of harm amongst those players who take part in a variety of gambling activities. Pages 56 and 74 of the combined Health Survey 2016 hold the details surrounding those who play more activities are more likely to experience gambling harm.
The introduction of a SCV is quite the ambitious undertaking for the Gambling Commission, and it is due to this that everything must be properly figured out beforehand and fits in with the scope of the data protection law.
It was in November of 2020 that the Commission was accepted into the Regulatory Sandbox – a service that was developed by the ICO. Through it, organisations creating products and services that utilise personal data in both innovative and safe ways are able to gain support. Through the Sandbox for the SCV, the Commission hoped to find out the following:
- If there is an appropriate lawful basis under Article 6 of the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) that allows for the sharing of behavioural data between online gambling operators via a SCV.
- Whether it could process special category personal data and if it is appropriate under Article 9 conditions for processing under the UK GDPR.
The Sandbox Report was published by the ICO on October 7, 2021, which deemed that the sharing of behavioural data between gambling operators may be lawful under Article 6 of the UK GDPR. For any processing of the noted data to be lawful though, all data protection principles outlined in Article 5 of the UK GDPR must be complied with alongside other aspects of the GDPR, like Article 25 data protection by design and by default.
Where Does the Gambling Commission Go from Here?
With the ICO providing its aforementioned report, the Commission has a clearer set of steps and guidance to refer to when deciding upon how to proceed with the SCV. Various issues and challenges remain in place through, which will need to be addressed in the preliminary phase. For the time being, there are no plans in the pipeline to authorise a specific SCV solution. Now, it is expected that the industry will move swiftly towards trialling an SCV solution, and this is expected to happen as part of a collaboration with the Commission and the ICO.
“We welcomed the early commitment we received from gambling companies and their trade body to develop and trial a solution”,
said Tim Miller, Executive Director at the UK Gambling Commission.
“However, we also recognised the questions that existed on how this could be achieved in a way that complied with data protection law. That is why we partnered with the Information Commissioner at an early stage and are pleased that they have been able to provide assurances that requirements on data protection need not be a barrier to making progress”,
Miller went on to state that the Commission is now looking forward to being able to rapidly start
“to pilot and then evaluate the approach they have developed to meet the challenge we have set of achieving a Single Customer View”.
Speaking of the intent of the ICO, the Director of Regulatory Assurance, Ian Hulme said that the vision
“behind the ICO Regulatory Sandbox was to create a space for organisations to test ideas and create products that have a real public benefit and make positive changes to society”.
He went on to say that the organisation’s work so far with the Gambling Commission has helped to bring the Sandbox vision to life and he looks forward to seeing how the project continues to develop.
Everything was backed up by Gambling Minister Chris Philip, who spoke of the determination “to tackle problem gambling”. He also commented on it being
“an important step towards protecting vulnerable people” and called on all operators to come together to provide a swift and meaningful solution.”
How Will the SCV Work in Today’s Society?
The SCV is regarded as being quite the vital introduction to the gambling scene as the Commission looks to protect players. And if affordability checks for gamblers across all operators are to be brought in with the review of the Gambling Act 2005, then this is even more so the case.
For the time being though, it is not clear who will be responsible for overseeing the data under a SCV system. That being said, suggestions and rumours of a new Gambling Ombudsman being introduced with the Gambling Act review have been rife.
Yet significant fears have been raised over such information sharing via a SCV. Some believe that winning gamblers could be more easily identified and therefore restricted. This already takes place at various sportsbooks and casinos, but it is done on a site-by-site basis. If a player holds three accounts on average and he is restricted at one, he can safely continue winning in the standard way at others. With a SCV system in place, his winning ways could be identified and dealt with across the board, and this is what some gamblers are afraid of happening.
Of course, it could also help with detailing those players who are losing large sums of money across various platforms. In the same vein, this is done solely on a site-by-site basis for the time being. Again, if a player holds an account at three casinos and loses £10,000 at one in the space of two weeks, he may end up being restricted and asked to secure assistance for a gambling problem. That has no effect on the other two casinos he has an account with, though.
What’s more, is it possible that this type of system could work in an offline environment? After all, if someone is flagged as being a problem gambler online by the SCV and then restricted from all licensed operators, could he not just visit a land-based casino and continue his gambling habits there? Land-based bookmakers, bingo halls, casinos, arcades and so on don’t really have much connection with the online world, and even their reports on revenue and income are generated separately to the online industry. Having a SCV for the online community may solve some of the problem, but could it also be adapted so as to suit the offline world? If so, we’re not sure how that would work, because people don’t specifically have to prove their identity when entering a land-based casino.
What About Compliance With Data Laws?
Is a single customer view legal under current data laws, considering data sharing is such an intense area to cover – especially now. Many people aren’t specifically comfortable with their data being shared. Through the SCV setup, details of their deposits, wagering and so on will be shared between a host of different licensed UK gambling platforms.
According to the ICO though, the SCV system may be legal via Article 6 (1)(e) ‘Public Task’ or Article 6 (1)(f) ‘Legitimate Interests’, outlined in the UK GDPR. These sections are as follows:
- ‘Public Task’. This requires there to be a basis in law, for the gambling operators to be able to share the data via the SCV. This process has to be carried out in the public interest but does not require there to be a legal obligation. However, there must be a domestic law from which it originates. Even though this condition may apply, extra analysis of the specific circumstances will need to take place once the SCV has been developed.
- ‘Legitimate Interests’. This surrounds the interests of various parties, including those people who are considered to be at risk of succumbing to problem gambling. The interests of the gambling operators in meeting their legal requirements are also included in this, as well as the interests of society. Such must be balanced against the interests and fundamental rights and freedoms of all subjects whose data may be shared. Again though, further analysis will need to take place as the SCV is developed to take into consideration certain circumstances.
Both of these provide a discretionary gateway to such data processing. They basically determine that the benefits of those individuals deemed to be at risk need to be balanced against the potential detriment experienced by data subjects whose data will be shared via the SCV.
For the time being, it cannot really be deemed as 100% lawful, because the SCV is still in the process of being created. And the likelihood is that additional developments to it will need to take place as time goes by. The Commission will need to ensure that nothing unlawful is taking place within such a system, and because there are so many circumstances where a slip could see things heading in that direction, the SCV needs to be thoroughly audited before being brought into action. And this is why the testing phases provided by the ICO Sandbox will likely be of great assistance.
Yet the UK gambling industry wouldn’t be the first to incorporate a SCV into its setup. Various companies have been pushing for such to be introduced. This is especially true when it comes to companies in customer-facing industries that have managed large volumes of customer data in the past. However, this has usually taken place in a much more siloed way, with sectors like retail, publishing, hospitality and so on using such methods. But why are more companies pushing for this now?
Well, customer experience expectations are currently at an all-time high. An improved customer experience is consistently in demand due to what has been labelled as the “Amazonification of commerce”. A company needs to stay relevant in order to maintain a competitive level with the best businesses around. An easy shopping experience should therefore be at the top of the cards for customers – which is something that sites like Amazon, Netflix and so on provide. People want suggestions that suit their needs, and a SCV has been able to do this by collecting data across company channels.
Many people also turned to the digital world during the COVID-19 pandemic. A swift turnover was experienced in this once lockdowns were implemented around the world. It was said that because of the online options replacing physical shopping, 10 years of growth took place in a period of just 90 days in the online sphere. Naturally, this highlights the necessity of digital options for many people and has led to companies developing new ways to be able to engage with customers. With SCVs, businesses have been able to get a better picture of who their customer is and how best to reach them.
Will this be a good thing for the gambling industry, though? After all, the suggested sharing of data is not specifically aimed at giving players a better experience. It is, instead, aimed at reducing gambling-related harm. And while the idea behind that is a noble one, will gamblers be satisfied with their gambling habits being passed between masses of operators?