UK Gambling Commission 'Not Attending' ICE 2019

A year after its former chief executive used the event’s keynote speech to criticise exhibitors for their use of scantily-clad female models, the UK Gambling Commission has confirmed it will not be attending this year's ICE.

A spokesperson told GamblingCompliance that the regulator has "decided to focus its resources" on its own projects for engaging with the industry and made no mention of the events of 12 months ago.

Probing questions over the use of partially nude women and perceived gender disparity at ICE were asked by former chief regulator Sarah Harrison during her 2018 keynote speech.

These were followed by a number of damning reports in the British national press that cited "swimsuit sexism" at the industry event.

Three firms were then warned by ICE organisers Clarion, and at least one exhibitor said it was told to cover up the hostesses and pole dancers hired to work at its stand.

Despite what that company says were unusually long delays in renewing its contract to exhibit at ICE this year, it is returning in 2019.

Asked some months ago about its plans, a spokesperson for the previously warned exhibitor said that it was "always very careful and diligent with organisers requirements for every expo or conference which we are attending and the next year will not be any different".

The Gambling Commission’s absence from ICE is a marked turnaround from a year previous, when its then-CEO gave the event’s opening speech and representatives were present on a number of panels at the VOX conference.

Speaking to GamblingCompliance, a commission spokesperson pointed to its enhanced efforts to offer workshops and its own conference.

“Over the last year we have strengthened the way we engage with the gambling industry by bringing a clearer focus on encouraging collaboration between operators, the regulator and consumers," they said.

“The collaboration workshops that we have run this year, alongside our own Raising Standards Conference, show how working together in this way can play an important role in identifying actions to make gambling fairer and safer."

Responding to the commission’s statement, Kate Chambers, Clarion Gaming’s managing director, noted that the regulator’s influence would not be completely absent from this year’s show.

"I would like to place on record our thanks to the Gambling Commission for its insight and guidance, assisting us to develop and grow the Consumer Protection Zone (CPZ)," she said.

The CPZ houses charities and non-profits involved in responsible gambling. Chambers said that Clarion was "hosting charities and non-profit organisations on a complimentary basis".

The Gambling Commission has previously taken a booth on the ICE show floor, but, in line with its statement, has not done so for 2019.

Responding to concerns around sexism, in October Clarion announced a new mandatory code of conduct for all exhibitors at all of its expos.

It says that "partial or total nudity or overtly sexual or suggestive clothing or marketing methods will not be allowed" and gives Clarion the power to ask exhibitors "deemed inappropriate" to "alter the attire of its stand staff".

There are exceptions, however. The rules state that "at the discretion of Clarion Gaming, the sole possible exception to this rule may be promotional characters that are seen 'in-game', but exhibitors must obtain permission in this respect from Clarion Gaming show management prior to commencement of the show".

Ex-commission chief Harrison came under fire from lawyers and trade associations, speaking on behalf some of the commission’s most prominent licensees, immediately following her comments last year.

Having been pilloried in the press in the days after her speech, the UK’s major bookmakers argued that they were being tarred by association with ICE’s worst offenders, most of whom are based in Central and Eastern Europe.

William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral, bet365 and 888 had no presence on the ICE show floor, but were active at the overlapping London Affiliate Conference, where stands featured none of the pole dancing or overtly sexual game content that had provoked outrage at ICE.

Harrison left the commission at the end of February 2018 to take up a role at the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and has since been replaced by the regulator’s former chief counsel, Neil McArthur.

Additional reporting by David Altaner.