In what many will consider to be intriguing timing given that a principal objective of the current Government review of the Gambling Act 2005 is to examine whether changes are needed to the system of gambling regulation in Great Britain, the departure from the Gambling Commission of its CEO Neil McArthur has today (15 March 2021) been announced.
No precise leaving date was given in the Commission’s announcement, although the Guardian has reported that McArthur’s resignation was “with immediate effect”. It adds that “the regulator has come under fire for a perceived failure to provide proper oversight of Football Index, although McArthur’s departure is understood to be unrelated to this”. We have previously reported on the unfortunate demise of Football Index here.
What is clear from the Commission’s announcement is that:
The Commission’s announcement adds that – pending appointment of an interim replacement CEO – Deputy Chief Executive Sarah Gardner and Chief Operating Officer Sally Jones will jointly become Acting Chief Executive.
The Commission’s announcement states:
Gambling Commission CEO announces departure
Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, has announced that he will be leaving the organisation after nearly 15 years. He joined the Commission in 2006 and was General Counsel before rising to the role of Chief Executive in 2018.
During Neil’s tenure as Chief Executive, the Gambling Commission has gone through a significant period of change as it equips itself to meet the challenges of regulating a rapidly changing and increasingly digital gambling market. Neil has overseen strengthening of protections against gambling harms – through the banning of gambling on credit cards; through enhanced age verification checks; and, most recently, through new requirements to build in protections to the design of online products. He has led moves to ensure that those impacted by gambling harms have their voices heard in the Commission’s decision making, culminating in the recent establishment of the Lived Experience Advisory Panel. Over the last 12 months Neil has also successfully navigated the organisation through the challenges that the global pandemic has brought.
Commenting on his departure Neil McArthur stated:
“I am proud of everything the Gambling Commission has achieved during my 15 years with the organisation. 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.”
Chairman of the Gambling Commission Bill Moyes commented:
“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.”
The Gambling Commission will shortly begin the process of recruiting a Chief Executive for an interim period. This will allow the successor to current Chairman Bill Moyes, whose term of office ends later this year, to appoint a permanent Chief Executive. Whilst that recruitment process is ongoing Deputy Chief Executive Sarah Gardner and Chief Operating Officer Sally Jones will jointly become Acting Chief Executive.
1. David Clifton was subsequently asked by EGR Intel to assess Neil McArthur’s legacy as UKGC CEO.
David’s assessment (that appeared in an EGR Intel article entitled “Passing the baton: Neil McArthur’s legacy as UKGC CEO” published on 16 March 2021) is as follows:
Neil McArthur’s path as UKGC CEO was laid down in advance by his immediate predecessor, Sarah Harrison. She departed from the Commission in 2018, having played a significant part in setting its strategy for the next three years. That strategy required the industry “to move farther and faster” to address “changing and evolving” risks in order to achieve a gambling market that is “fairer and safer for consumers”.
No-one can doubt that McArthur followed that strategy with zeal, albeit in the process appearing to distance the Commission yet further away from its original approach to regulation, succinctly summed up by its first CEO, Jenny Williams, as aiming “to impose the minimum of regulation consistent with achieving the licensing objectives”.
In the eyes of some, McArthur will have gone even further than Harrison in “placing the consumer at the heart of gambling regulation”, raising the question whether the careful balance required between (a) giving individuals the freedom to choose how they spend their own money and (b) protecting vulnerable people and their families from gambling-related harm has shifted too far in favour of the latter to the detriment of the former. The current ‘affordability’ debate is a case in point.
There is no doubt in my mind that, from the word “go”, McArthur genuinely wanted to make gambling fairer and safer for all by achieving increased collaboration between the Commission and its licence-holders (as well as between licence-holders themselves). He famously said to an audience of industry board members in November 2018: “I want consumers in Britain to be able to enjoy the fairest and safest gambling in the world… and to achieve my aims I need your support: I need you to work together to make sure you are the best – the fairest, safest – gambling operators in the world.”
Sadly, given his undoubted good intentions, in terms of a legacy McArthur may instead be most remembered for leading the Commission at a time when it has come under more intense negative public, media and parliamentary criticism than at any other time in its history. By way of example, the regulatory body was slammed – unjustly in my view – by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last year for being “a torpid, toothless regulator that doesn’t seem terribly interested in either the harms it exists to reduce or the means it might use to achieve that”.
Those of us who have come to know Neil McArthur over his many years at the Gambling Commission appreciate that he was driven by a genuine desire to reduce gambling-related harm. That would be a kinder way for him to be remembered.
2. In order to place David Clifton’s above comments into better perspective, readers might be interested to know that David was interviewed in the May 2018 edition of iGaming Times, answering the following questions shortly after Neil McArthur’s appointment as CEO of the Gambling Commission:
That interview can be accessed here.