SBC News Sunak to order toughest medicine to fix online gambling

Sunak to order toughest medicine to fix online gambling

UK operators have been warned to prepare for the worst outcome of the gambling review, as PM Rishi Sunak has backed stringent reforms “to fix the catastrophe of online gambling“. 

As reported by Steven Swinford, Political Editor of The Times, Sunak will “resurrect plans to curb online gambling amid concerns about the number of people who are becoming addicted.”

Sunak wants to “push ahead” and deliver on a Conservative pledge of the 2019 manifesto, choosing to no longer delay the Gambling Review, which has been at a standstill since the resignation of PM Boris Johnson.

Backed by the PM, the Gambling Review will impose the toughest measures on online gambling operators, including customer affordability checks and stake limits – controls opposed by industry leadership. 

Headline measures will see the government introduce stake limits of £2-and-£5 on online casino slots, with customers able to wager higher amounts if they can afford to.

Customer Affordability is principal to reforms, in which operators must undertake ‘non-intrusive’ checks on individuals’ finances to protect against ‘unsustainable losses’. 

Deemed as “credit checks”, The Times provided no further conditions on how affordability safeguards will be imposed on customers but cited that the government “will consult on the precise mechanism.” 

In a previous assessment of affordability checks and stake limits, the government outlined that measures could see “online gambling revenues could fall by as much as £700m.” 

Secondary measures will see the government impose a “more robust age verification to ensure that under-18s cannot do any form of gambling.” 

Proposals for changes to free bets and VIP packages were dropped, as the industry is recognised to have imposed mandatory safeguards curtailing previous concerns. 

As anticipated and supported by the industry, the government will institute a Gambling Ombudsman to deal with consumer rights and disputes.

However, likely to cause controversy amongst MPs, the government will allow Premier League clubs to decide on a voluntary approach to gambling/betting sponsorships – a position criticised by cross-party leaders of the Gambling Related Harm APPG. 

A Gambling Review with few positives will relax regulations for land-based casinos to install more machines and extend credit to foreign customers. 

Industry reforms will be adopted using secondary legislation, which requires no votes in Parliament. The Times reported that “some in government are pushing for the review to be published before Christmas, although others say it is likely to take longer.” 

Of significance, Sunak views the Gambling Review as a critical mandate of his early premiership, in which he wants peers to stand by reforms avoiding a repeat of 2018’s contentious judgement on FOBTs machines which split DCMS and the Treasury. 

During his tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak was impartial on industry reforms, only speaking on the matter to raise concerns on the funding of grassroots UK racing initiatives.

The Times cited that the PM had turned on a softer approach to gambling regulations, choosing to listen to the warnings of senior NHS clinicians on gambling harms and suicide. 

Last week, NHS doctors called for the government to place suicide prevention at the front of the reform’s agenda, stating that addiction clinics were witnessing a surge in demand for treatment and support for gambling addiction.

Gambling addiction clinic figures disclosed to The Times revealed that “599 patients have been referred to the service in the past six months, a 42% increase on the same period last year and up 65% from 2020-21”.  

The increase reflects concerns about gambling-related suicides, which are currently recorded at more than 400 each year in England, as clinics report that “one in three patients had attempted suicide; 57% report thinking they would be better off dead.”

Frontline doctors warned that the NHS could “no longer afford to pick up the tab” caused by the harms of the online gambling sector. 

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