The gambling watchdog has told betting firms to tighten their measures to protect problem gamblers amid a surge in online gaming during the coronavirus lockdown.
The Gambling Commission said that improved measures are needed after new evidence revealed problem gamblers may be more vulnerable due to the lockdown.
It comes only weeks after Christian advocacy group Christian Action Research & Education (CARE) called for greater protections for those most susceptible to problem gambling.
The Gambling Commission said new figures show that gambling through online poker and virtual sports increased by 38 per cent and 40 per cent respectively in March.
Meanwhile, gambling through online slot machines increased by 25 per cent in the month when the lockdown was first introduced.
It also said that 64 per cent of “more engaged gamblers” reported that they have increased the time or money spent on online gambling since the lockdown.
However, the volume of sports bets tumbled 31 per cent in March as sporting fixtures came to a halt across the globe.
The Gambling Commission told gambling firms to carry out more stringent due diligence on their affordability checks for gamblers.
It also called for firms to prevent the reversal of withdrawals and to stop bonuses for users displaying indicators of harm.
Neil McArthur, chief executive of the Gambling Commission, said: “Operators must use the data they hold to protect their customers and now, more than ever, it’s vital that online operators really know their customers by monitoring how long they are playing for and understanding how financial uncertainty is impacting them and what they can afford to gamble with.
“To ensure operators do that, we are strengthening our guidance and expect operators to take account of that to prevent bonus offers or inducements being offered to customers who are showing any sign of harm.
“We are monitoring online operators closely and if we see irresponsible behaviour we will step in immediately, suspending licences if we need to.”
Last month, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) said firms voluntarily agreed to remove all their gaming advertising for at least six weeks. However, while welcoming the announcement, CARE said it hoped the move wasn’t “too little, too late”.
“It is clear that deregulation of the betting industry must not be allowed to continue,” said CARE. “In the interests of protecting people from gambling related harms, the Government must take the initiative to bring the betting industry into line.
“Whatever the ‘new normal’ for the UK looks like, it must include ongoing protections for those most susceptible to problem gambling.”
In recent weeks, the Government has also told gambling bosses they must provide regular updates on how they are tackling problem gambling during the coronavirus crisis.
The Gambling Commission also announced that around £9 million taken from betting operators due to their regulatory failings will be used to provide help for problem gamblers during the Covid-19 crisis.
Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sports, Tourism and Heritage, said: “It is vital that people are protected from the threat of gambling-related harm and I welcome these latest steps from the Gambling Commission.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will not hesitate to take further action if required.”
Picture: File photo dated 29/1/07 of a spinning roulette wheel. (Martin Rickett/PA).