Betting gets behind gambling reform

Politics Home Michael Dugher,Betting and Gaming Council Gambling Reform
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The UK’s betting industry has undergone a major transformation in the post FOBT years with the awkward, bully-boy bluster replaced by the slick, smooth tones of an organisation that speaks like evaporated milk pouring into instant coffee. The Betting and Gaming Council may not be double cream, and it may not be espresso, but it’s definitely richer in taste, and that’s going down a lot better than ever before. Hitting some sweet spots, the BGC’s CEO Michael Dugher went to the heart of political analysis – Politics Home – last week to convey his association’s response to the Lords report on Gambling Reform. Coinslot picks out the highlights.

 

The Lords report into gambling was food for thought – it’s time now for the Government to get on with their Review My message to the Government is a simple one: let’s get on with the review of the Gambling Act without delay.

Reports into the gambling industry are a bit like buses at the moment. You wait for ages and then several seem to come along at once.

The latest one arrived on 1 July from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry on the future of gambling regulation.

Unlike what you normally hear from prohibitionists and the usual suspects in the anti-gambling lobby, the Lords report is well-considered. Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t pull any punches.

Many of the members of the Committee are well known critics of the industry. But what really struck me was that their approach was genuinely constructive.

It is a substantial and important piece of work which we welcomed at the Betting and Gaming Council, the new standards body that brings together different parts of the regulated gambling industry.

We don’t agree with every recommendation – nobody would – but there is much in the report that we do support and I believe it can form the basis for a wider discussion on how our industry is regulated in the future.

To that end, my message to the Government is a simple one: let’s get on with the review of the Gambling Act without delay.

We are eager to work with MPs and ministers on this vital piece of work, but it’s important that the review is evidence-led.

Our members completely agree with the Lords that the challenge for the Government and the industry is to make gambling safer for all, but no less enjoyable for those who do participate safely.

Striking the right balance between regulation and not unfairly restricting the majority will be key to a successful Gambling Act Review.

The Lords report rightly acknowledges that around 300,000 people in the UK are problem gamblers, to a greater or lesser degree, and we recognise the terrible impact this can have on those around them. But it’s also important to remember that the vast majority of the nearly 30 million British adults who enjoy a flutter every year, by either buying a Lottery ticket or having a bet, do so safely and enjoyably.

As both the Government and the Gambling Commission acknowledge, problem gambling levels in the UK have remained stable at around 0.7 per cent of the adult population for nearly two decades.

We must now look at what more can be done to identify those individuals, ensure that they get the help they need and that the industry continues to drive higher standards on safer gambling so, for example, problem gamblers use the self-exclusion tools available that block them from all forms of gambling with our members.

We are already working with the Gambling Commission on new affordability checks and a new code of conduct for game design, including slowing spin speeds on games and removing some in-game features.

We also welcome the report’s understanding of the role of advertising and the lack of real evidence of any link between gambling advertising and problem gambling.

Betting provides sport with the vital funding it needs – indeed, the Committee warns that some smaller football clubs could go to the wall without it – and it also supports the TV channels’ ability to broadcast more sport than would otherwise be possible.

Over 50 per cent of all our members’ bets are taken on sport, and in turn revenue from these bets return to sport through media rights, advertising and sponsorship.

Nevertheless, our members have taken great strides to address the level of gambling advertising. They introduced a whistle-to-whistle ban on advertising during all sport, which has resulted in an 84 per cent reduction in sports advertising, banned all gaming product advertising during lockdown and have pledged that at least 20 per cent of advertising will be safer gambling messages going forward.

The Lords report rightly raises concerns about children and gambling. It is important to understand that the vast majority of that is legal betting between friends, in arcades or on the National Lottery.

It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to bet with any of our BGC members and we have strict measures in place to prevent any child from accessing our members’ products, whether that is preventing them entering betting shops, ID and age checks at the entrance to casinos or new ID and age verification checks online.

Gambling by under-18s with National Lottery products is clearly a matter for the Government, but we note the Committee’s recommendation that all gambling online should be restricted to adults only. Speaking personally, I support that.

It is also vital that action is taken against black market online operators who do not adhere to our safeguards and checks. It is important that any changes to regulations do not simply drive gamblers into the arms of unscrupulous operators.

Finally, I welcome the fact that the report acknowledges the huge economic contribution made by our industry, which pays £3bn a year to the Treasury in tax, whilst also employing more than 100,000 people. These are decent, hardworking people with bills to pay and families to take care of. They deserve our support.

We are driving significant changes in our industry and will continue to do so. Our members have already introduced a range of measures, including cooling off periods on gaming machines, encouraging deposit limits, monitoring play and spend, closing off VIP schemes to under-25s and massively increasing funding by £100 million for research, education and treatment. Many of these actions mirror recommendations made in the report.

But it is clear to me that the time for talking about reviewing the Gambling Act is over. We should now get on and do it. I understand that ministers have been rightly focused on the covid-19 crisis.

I also know how strongly ministers like Nigel Huddleston care about driving changes and raising standards. But as soon as they are ready, BGC members are standing by to work with ministers and Parliament to make some big changes and further drive up standards.

There have always been certain people who are anti-gambling. They just hate the industry and they don’t care about the tens of thousands of people who work in or the millions of people who enjoy betting safely – it’s all about getting a quote in the Daily Mail.

But there are others – many more of them – in the mainstream who rightly do have genuine concerns and issues.

It’s our job at the BGC to engage with those people and address those concerns and issues. For those who are genuine reformers (and I include myself in this), who are willing to embrace big changes with reasonable, evidence-led improvements to regulations, the House of Lords report into gambling was food for thought and an important contribution to the debate. It was a victory for reformers over the prohibitionists – and it bodes well for the Government’s Review.

We’ve had plenty of reports of late. Now it’s time for the Government to get on with their Review.


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