The misuse of data is feeding prejudicial reporting

Peter Hannibal, chief executive of the Gambling Business Group says the Gambling Commission may well be acting within the law but it needs to handle the data it’s requesting with great care

“The Gambling Commission has been requesting information from Remote Operators relating to changes in consumer behaviour over the lockdown period. It published the results in May generating unfortunate and sensational headlines across national media – all of which result in more cumulative reputational damage for the industry.

The lack of understanding or explanation relating to the relationship between volume and average spend per head is the root cause feeding the click bait style headlines.

Those with any knowledge of operating know that when volume falls it is typically casual players – who spend less – that reduce their gambling activity, which in turn has the effect of inflating the average spend figure for those still active.

As such, there is no evidence that supports headlines such as The Guardian’s Regular gamblers up the stakes during UK lockdown. It is widely felt that the Gambling Commission is letting us all down by either not explaining fully the nuances or detail of their reporting or managing the news flow more effectively.

So how does this all impact the wider industry and Coinslot readers in particular? Well requests for information relating to the Coronavirus period are now being asked of AGCs, Betting Shops and FECs. They include requests for data relating to footfall, machine details, responsible gambling interactions and data on playing sessions segmented by machine category.

Requests relating to retail arcade customers cover the periods from March – the immediate run-up to lockdown – through to July 2020 – the eased reopening period. They also require a comparator dataset from the equivalent period during 2019.

Make no mistake, this is no small ask, unless you are fortunate enough to have expensive systems and processes in place that can generate this sort of information at the click of a mouse.

You could question why provide the data in the first place when there is a high risk that it is going to be unfairly used by the media to damage and undermine the industry?

However, withholding information is not an option.

The last time the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice – LCCP – were revisited a new requirement was introduced. Licence Condition 15.3.1. stipulates that: ‘On request, licensees must provide the Commission with such information as the Commission may require about the use made of facilities provided in accordance with this licence, and the manner in which gambling authorised by this licence and the licensee’s business in relation to that gambling are carried on.’

In particular it specifies information on (a) the numbers of people making use of the facilities and the frequency of such use (b) the range of gambling activities provided by the licensee and the numbers of staff employed in connection with them and (c) thelicensee’s policies in relation to, and experiences of, problem gambling.

In fairness to the Commission, it is only exercising these new requirements in the LCCP which all Licenced Operators are legally bound to provide.

Needless to say, there are genuine concerns not only in relation to how the data will be used, but also the open-ended extent of the information that the Gambling Commission is able to demand.

But it is certainly within the rights of operators to ask how the information provided is to be used and to seek assurances that it won’t be the collateral for more misleading headlines.