Cross-party MPs call for gambling overhaul in new report

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm (GRH APPG) has called for a blanket ban on gambling advertisements as well as an overhaul of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) as part of its final report into online gambling harms.

Following a year-long inquiry, the 50-strong group of MPs – which has emphasised it is ‘not anti-gambling or prohibitionist’ – have made 30 recommendations to improve the procedures in place to tackle problem gambling.

The Group’s report is based on information collected from 10 public evidence sessions, closed sessions, submissions from a wide range of stakeholders and meetings with the Gambling Commission and gambling ministers.

Among the recommendations, the GRH APPG has suggested that a new Gambling Act is introduced which is ‘fit for the digital age’. UK licensed operators should support research, education, prevention and treatment through a new ‘smart levy’, while establishing a Gambling Ombudsman would support consumer redress.

Publishing independent research undertaken by Survation, the GRH APPG underlined that its drastic measures carry public support, with regards to limits on gambling stakes and deposits, reducing gambling marketing exposure to under-18s and banning all offshore ‘tax-avoiding’ operators that have secured UKGC licences.

Carolyn Harris MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm, said: “This multi-million pound industry has destroyed people’s lives. They resist change at every turn and claim to be reforming themselves but put forward limited changes.

“Their primary motive is profit. During the Covid pandemic they said they would end TV and radio advertising but just ended up replacing ads with ads – that none of us want to see. They have shown time and again that they will not effectively self-regulate. We cannot ignore this any longer. Urgent change is needed to stop this industry riding roughshod over people’s lives.”

Speaking at the recent SBC Digital Summit, Harris said that she was on a mission to ‘end the predatory aspects of the industry and its severe impacts on society’s vulnerable’.

On the panel, Harris stated that she has a ‘long list’ of things to tackle, but her three main social concerns related to VIP programmes (including bonus incentives), lack of forced interventions by operators and affordability checks – all of which are also included among the GRH APPG’s recommendations.

Pointing to its new research, the GRH APPG said that a ‘net 82%’ of the UK public agree that there should be a limit on online gambling deposits, a figure that is ‘almost identical’ in support of wagering limits on single bets.

In its call for a blanket advertising ban, the parliamentary group underlined that 82% of people surveyed believe that under-18 audiences should have no exposure to gambling advertising.

Further insights saw the GRH APPG highlight the lack of public confidence in the UK gambling industry in which 37% of people surveyed believed that gambling firms cannot be trusted.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Vice-Chair of the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group, said: “We cannot continue with the current lack of regulation for the online industry. We have an industry that is profiteering from vulnerable people gambling more than they can afford.

“The industry’s ill-named ‘VIP Rooms’ and their inducements have become a cynical tool to incentivise problem gamblers to gamble until they are spiralling into addiction and despair.

“We urgently need the industry to adopt safer standards and for our failing regulatory structure to be overhauled”

In its findings, the GRH APPG claimed that the UKGC ‘is struggling to keep pace with the fast growing industry’ and is ‘behind that of many other countries’. Citing the recent pandemic as an example, the GRH APPG has called for a new Ombudsman which can deliver ‘greater protections to customers across all verticals.

Ronnie Cowan MP, Vice Chair of the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group, added: “Every day I speak to people whose lives have been destroyed by gambling addiction while the online gambling industry grows exponentially. This Government must not sit back and watch the unfettered growth of an industry that extracts money from people across the UK to line their own pockets.

“We are bombarded by gambling across all mediums and our sports are in hoc to an industry which seeks to profit from them. Young men, women and families are being destroyed by online gambling.

“Our Gambling Commission is not fit for purpose, we urgently need an ombudsman and the Government must do its job, it must not pander to the multi-million pound might of the online industry, it must put people and our communities first.”

Commenting on the report by the APPG on Gambling Related Harm, a Betting and Gaming Council spokesperson said: “Over 20 million adults enjoy gambling occasionally, whether that’s on the National Lottery, bingo, sports or gaming, including online, and the overwhelming majority of them do so safely.

“Both the Regulator and the Government have both made it clear that there is in fact no evidence that problem gambling has increased, but as an industry we have to keep doing more to help those people for whom gambling does become a problem.

“Since the BGC was formed as the standards body last year, we have driven a number of significant changes across the industry – from advertising restrictions, encouraging deposit limits, monitoring play and spend so we can intervene to prevent customers getting into difficulties, closing online accounts, introducing strict new ID and age verifications, implementing the ban on credit cards and massively increasing funding for research, education and treatment.

“We are committed to making even more changes and to driving up safer gambling standards further, and we look forward to working with the Government on their forthcoming Review.Of course there will always be people who are anti-gambling and prohibitionists who are not interested in the fact the regulated industry supports over 100,000 jobs and pays over £3 billion in tax.

“But we have to avoid measures that could drive people away from gambling safely with online companies who operate in what is rightly already a heavily regulated market, to instead gambling online with unregulated, offshore, black market, illegal operators that don’t conform to any standards or safeguards to protect problem gamblers and the most vulnerable.”

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