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The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has hinted at focusing enforcement efforts on smaller operators in future to ensure that “standards are met across the board”.

UKGC CEO Andrew Rhodes said there had been a clear difference in the levels of compliance across the operators the regulator has assessed over the last 12 to 18 months.

Compliance levels are lower among smaller operators, which have seen growth in high-risk customers after the cohort was mostly displaced by larger businesses, Rhodes said.

As such, the chief executive said the regulator would be setting its sights on these operators to ensure consistent levels of compliance.

“From a regulatory point of view, it cannot be acceptable for operators to make the changes and investment they have to drive higher standards, only to potentially observe others in the same market appearing to ‘get away’ with lower standards,” he said.

“This is where a lot of our focus will be in the coming year – ensuring the required standards are met right across the board.”

The remarks were made during Rhodes’ speech at the Betting & Gaming Council’s Annual General Meeting.

At the event, Rhodes talked about the importance of building a “more grown-up relationship” between the industry and the regulator.

Part of this would be a move away from an enforcement-led approach, to one based on dialogue and ensuring “compliance at the earliest opportunity”.

With the planned introduction of affordability checks generating a great deal of controversy within the industry, relations are considered to have hit a low ebb in the past year.

Has the Commission violated the Regulator’s Code?

One particular source of controversy is whether the Commission’s actions have represented a violation of the Regulator’s Code.

Gaming consultant Regulus Partners released a report in January that assessed the regulator’s adherence to both the code and the government’s Nolan Principles of Public Life.  

Regulus asserted in the document that the Commission has “fallen short of the standards set by the code”, in its approach to enforcement.

Rhodes took a combative stance in defending the regulator’s conduct from this criticism.

“We do sometimes get thrown at us that the code means we should therefore be talking the industry up and encouraging growth,” he said.

“I doubt anyone in this room today could argue that as the regulator we could have been ‘talking up’ the industry in recent years given some of the enforcement issues we’ve seen.

“We are not here to champion the industry, that is what you have the BGC for. The code is aimed at ensuring that we carry out our activities in a way that supports you all to comply and grow.

“But before I move on I would just pose the question: given the figures I mentioned earlier where participation is flat over several years, what growth do you think you should have but you do not?”

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