They say that in life timing is everything.
Which makes you question why Neil McArthur, the chief executive of the UK Gambling Commission, has decided to quit his post in the midst of a regulatory review.
You don’t need to don a long trench coat and magnifying glass in the search for clues here – something considerable, you suspect, is going on behind closed doors.
We can only speculate as to what, but the facts are that the government is currently conducting a full and frank review of the Gambling Act 2005, and that is expected to serve up a few key changes to the industry.
On top of that, the Commission continues to fall under intense scrutiny of its own, with some suggest it’s not doing enough to protect the interests of those in the sector – punters, operators and the rest.
So let’s try and pick apart the tale of the tape as the UK Gambling Commission is plunged into chaos once more.
McArthur Resigns Amid ‘Future Challenges
It does seem unusual for a high-ranking official to quit from their post in the middle of one of their most turbulent periods in recent memory.
And so it would be crude to probe too deeply into McArthur’s personal affairs, although he did allude to the challenges he had faced in the role – and the spectre of the legislative review – in his exit speech. “I am proud of everything the Gambling Commission has achieved during my 15 years with the organisation,” he said. “We have taken significant steps forward to make gambling fairer and safer and I know that I leave the organisation in a strong position to meet its future challenges.
“With a review of the Gambling Act underway now feels the right time to step away and allow a new Chief Executive to lead the Commission on the next stage in its journey.”
He was thanked for his service, which dates back to 2006 when he joined the Commission, by Bill Moyes, whose own term as chairman will end later this year. He said: “On behalf of the Board I would like to thank Neil for his many years of commitment and service to the Gambling Commission. A lot has been achieved during his time here, and Neil can rightly feel proud of the organisation’s progress during his tenure as Chief Executive.”
McArthur was promoted to the position of chief executive in 2018, and his deputy – Sarah Gardner – will take temporary charge until a permanent successor is found.
A New Dawn
Stakeholders in the betting industry are holding their breath as to any reforms the government is proposing amid their Gambling Act review.
Customer welfare has become a hot topic for debate in recent times, with the sense that bookmakers could do more to protect their most vulnerable players from risk and potential harm.
The cut in the maximum stake allowed on FOBTs was considered a watershed moment, and led to hundreds of jobs being lost in high street betting shops.
Ministers will be mindful of putting more people out of work – especially in the midst of the pandemic – however there is a growing fear that affordability checks will be introduced in the near future.
Those in horse racing in particular have warned of the dire consequences of introducing such draconian measures, but there are whispers that all bettors will be limited to losses of £100 or less per month – if they want to wager more, they would have to provide evidence of their ability to afford it through payslips, bank statements and the like.
That is a move that will push some individuals out of the UK market altogether – why wouldn’t high rollers seek out bigger limits with offshore firms on the black market?
The decision to ban credit card betting in the UK was welcome – that was always a disaster witing to happen, but affordability checks? Are people asked if they can afford that new TV when perusing the aisles of Currys?
It appears as those the gambling industry could be a whipping boy for the government once more….
Where Does the Gambling Commission Go From Here?
It has been called ‘unfit for purpose’, ‘torpid’ and ‘toothless’….and that’s just by a governmental committee alone.
The National Audit Office has even weighed in, intimating that the organisation is ‘unlikely to be fully effective in addressing risks and harms to consumers’ in its current standing.
It has to be said that the Football Index debacle has not been a good look for the UK Gambling Commission. They authorised the ‘football stock exchange’ by handing them a license, legitimising the brand by doing so.
Fast forward a couple of years and you have a company, increasingly looking like a Ponzi scheme as more revelations are made, on the brink of collapse and a myriad of customers out of pocket to the collective tune of millions.
While a fairly isolated case, the fact that the UKGC a) gave the green light to the Football Index concept, and b) failed to intervene until this far down the line does beg the question: is the Commission really fit for purpose after all?