It’s a new era for the Gambling Commission as GC operative Neil McArthur assumes the top role at the regulator on a permanent basis. From a holding position, to holding the position, McArthur has been handed the responsibility, indirectly, of steering the UK’s gaming and gambling sector along the straight and narrow. What can we expect from the new man at the top of the Commission?
No sooner had he been posted to the position of interim chief excecutive at the Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur found himself elevated to the job permanently within a matter of weeks. He succeeds his former boss Sarah Harrison who left the Commission in February, a departure that had frustratingly soured the industry-regulator relationship like a pint of milk just past its sellby date into a curdled bottle left to fester in the fridge.
Neil McArthur’s task is to acquire some culinary skills and turn that curdled milk into cottage cheese, adding some taste for an industry that has had very little to feed off in recent years. The industry has high hopes for Mr McArthur, primarily because it has no option. Welcome to the world of Gambling Commission CEO.
The man selected to restore the industry’s trust in the regulator was drawn from a very strong field. The official announcement confirmed that his appointment “follows a thorough search and highly competitive process to recruit the role.”
And McArthur’s skills and knowledge can certainly not be overlooked. Bill Moyes, chair of the Commission, was very clear on this. “Neil’s appointment is great news for the Commission,” he noted. “He brings to the role a thorough understanding of gambling issues and regulation, along with proven commitment to making gambling fairer and safer. I’m looking forward to working even more closely with Neil as he leads the Commission to make significant progress in raising standards, protecting consumers and the public from gambling-related harm and improving the performance of the National Lottery.”
There’s a sense, not just outside the Birmingham HQ but also within, that the post really needed this “thorough understanding of gambling issues”. And in McArthur, that certainly is the case. A civil servant that had been serving the Commission previously as general counsel, the one thing he does understand is the task ahead. Whether he understands it from both sides of the fence, time will tell. However, the new CEO is excited at the challenge.
Speaking on the day of his appointment, McArthur said: “I’m looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead to make gambling fairer and safer. I am really proud of the Commission’s achievements over the last 12 years, but there is a lot more to do. Ensuring consumers are empowered to make informed choices about gambling while addressing and reducing the harms that can come from gambling is a challenge that cannot be overcome by us alone. It needs continued strong partnerships with other regulators, consumer representatives and government. Most importantly, it requires gambling operators to treat their customers fairly and they can expect us to be tough but fair in making sure they meet their responsibilities.”
Enthusiastic words, although probably contrived through the well-oiled PR machinery of the organisation itself. But it’s not the words McArthur signs off that will matter, it’s the words he says when he looks the industry in the eye during their, hopefully, regular exchanges. With McArthur parked in the post, it’s now down to the industry and regulator to start the dance towards making their peace and fashion a more meaningful and trusting relationship going forward.
But, as if a timely reminder was necessary, the new CEO still has teeth, and clearly isn’t afraid to bare them; within days of his appointment, the Gambling Commission struck down another high profile bookie with Tabcorp UK hit with a £84,000 penalty to be paid to socially responsible causes and new conditions attached to their gambling licence.
As former general counsel, McArthur – and, indeed, the industry itself – will be all too aware that this is standard legal practice from the Commission. What stakeholders in the industry will be hoping is McArthur will be able to distinguish between the legal and moral practice, the latter of which has seriously clouded the regulator’s remit under his predecessors.
In the meantime, Neil McArthur can certainly expect a honeymoon period; at least until the government releases its decision on the triennial review and that very sensitive matter of stakes and prizes. That is due sometime soon, so not much time to get into the fridge and deal with the curdled milk.
THE MCARTHUR TERM – INDUSTRY RESPONSE
Peter Hannibal, chief executive of the cross sector industry body, the Gambling Business Group, was among the first to congratulate the new Commission chief. In an official response, Hannibal said: “The Gambling Business Group welcomes the news that Neil McArthur’s appointment as the CEO of the Gambling has been made permanent.
We and our members have worked with Neil on a number of regulatory matters and initiatives over the years that the Gambling Commission has existed, and always found him reasonable, logical and balanced in his approach. It is important for the Industry that there is continuity in key roles such as this. Governments’ have an unfortunate bias towards bringing people in from outside, which may well shake things up, but not necessarily for the better. With Neil now firmly in the seat we look forward to a constructive and progressive relationship with the industry’s regulator.”
Bacta’s John White congratulated McArthur on his appointment and said he “look forward to working with him as we jointly seek to ensure delivery of the licensing objectives”.