Tom Watson – ‘Cultural change’ is key to gaining a purposeful gambling industry

Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson has published the full transcript of his speech on gambling reforms delivered yesterday to UK ‘cross-party’ thinktank DEMOS.

In his opening statement, Watson outlines his belief that the UK gambling sector’s defence of FOBTs machines through ‘unacceptable lobbying’ has seen its incumbents ‘fall beyond public accountability’.

Watson states that any future Labour government ‘must audit every existing regulator to ensure that they put the interest of consumers at the heart of what they do.’

Placing consumer interests and protections at the forefront of future UK gambling policies, Watson outlines that industry regulators must ensure that the sector maintains a public rationale.

“Trust in markets requires consumers to be treated fairly but from rail, to energy, to financial services, it often feels like consumers are secondary in the minds of regulators who are meant to govern in their interest,”  Watson states to DEMOS audience.

“Today represents the beginning of what I hope will be a more productive phase of gambling policymaking. When we think about gambling, and its place in society today, do we have an idea of what we would like it to be… Do we have a vision for change?”

Addressing policy stakeholders, Watson details further insights on ‘cultural change’ as a dynamic that can change gamblings’ relationship with the UK public.

“I talked about culture: a culture of gambling that is based on fairness, transparency and dignity, and never loses sight of the fact that people are more important than profits. Believing in this kind of culture is not the same thing as being either for or against gambling.”

Assessing current gambling regulatory frameworks, Watson believes that a restructuring of the current ‘tripartite arrangement’ set by the 2005 Gambling Act will lead to better industry governance.

“The 2005 Gambling Act was based on 3 principles: to prevent disorder and crime, to ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and to protect the vulnerable from harm.

“These are important principles. But too often they have been used by both the regulator and the industry to define what gambling should not be. They have been interpreted as punitive rather than aspirational. “

“If we are to change our gambling culture, we need a structure based on transformative principles”.

Watson outlines that the betting industry should strive towards ‘three new priorities’, in having a regulator that champions ‘purposeful companies’, introducing an ombudsman monitoring consumer interests/disputes and helping UK healthcare networks uphold public health concerns.

Supporting change, Watson and Labour back the introduction of a mandatory 1% Gross-Gambling-Yield levy, raising a target £100 million in funds for problem gambling treatment, research and prevention.

Watson states that the introduction of the mandatory levy, which has received the backing of a number of industry leaders and cross-party MPs should lead to a restructuring of current tripartite arrangements.

“In no other area of government would it be reasonable to have an industry levy of over £100 million without formal processes of auditing, impact assessments, training and clinical standards attached to how that levy is spent.

“We simply would not allow that to happen with other sectors. And nor should we allow it for gambling… Not when the stakes are so high”.

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