BGC and GC highlight RG progress following Lords report

2 July 2020

British gambling trade body the Betting and Gaming Council and the Gambling Commission have welcomed the House of Lords' committee recommendations for regulator change in Great Britain, while looking to highlight recent progress towards tacking gambling harm in the market.

Gambling related harm charity Gambling With Lives also responded to the report, titled “Gambling Harm - Time for Action”, which called for measures including stake limits and a ban on gambling sports sponsorship.

BGC chief executive Michael Dugher praised what he described as a “substantial and important report”, and urged the government to bring forward its planned review of the Gambling Act “without delay” while working with the industry on evidence-led plans for future regulation.

“We support reform, and look forward to engaging with the government on how we ensure a strong future for the regulated industry whilst being 100% focused on driving more changes and higher standards on safer gambling,” Dugher said.

However, he also addressed Peers’ claims that the industry made life “miserable” for those that suffer ill effects from their play, pointing out that this was only a small minority of the overall number of gamblers, with statistics suggesting the number has not risen recently.

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

“As both the Government and the Gambling Commission acknowledge, problem gambling levels in the UK have remained stable at around 0.7% of the adult population for nearly two decades and we must now look at what more can be done to identify those individuals and ensure that they use the self-exclusion tools available that block them from all forms of gambling with our members.”

Dugher then mentioned action taken by BGC members towards heightened player protection. These include Gambling Commission working groups on advertising, VIP schemes and game design. These working groups introduced new measures for BGC members including allowing VIP schemes and social media adverts only for over-25s with the Commission launching consultations to expand these to all licnsees - but its measures on game design were deemed insufficient, with the Commission suggesting more drastic measures, such as mandatory loss and stake limits, last month.

“We are driving significant changes in our industry and will continue to do so,” Dugher said. “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.”

He continued by addressing advertising, where the Lords’ committee did not go as far as the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling-Related Harm (APPG), which said all gambling advertising should be banned last month.  However, it did call for an end to all sports sponsorship and gambling advertising in or near any sports grounds or venues with the exception of greyhound racing, a measure supported by GVC Holdings.

“We welcome the committee’s understanding of the role of advertising and the lack of real evidence of any link between gambling advertising and problem gambling,” Dugher said. “Betting not only provides sport with the vital funding it needs, it also supports the TV channels’ ability to broadcast more sport than would otherwise be possible. Over 50% 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.”

“Our members have taken great strides in addressing the level of advertising, introducing a whistle to whistle ban on advertising during all sport, which has resulted in an 84% reduction in sports advertising, banning all gaming product advertising during lockdown and have now committed that at least 20% of advertising will be safer gambling messages going forward.”

The Lords’ report also made several mentions of the risk of gambling being offered to children. In response, Dugher noted that most gambling among under-18s consisted of private bets between friends or the National Lottery or arcades, both are available to under-18s legally. The report looks to amend this by raising the minimum age for National Lottery players to 18.

The Gambling Commission provided a response of its own after the report said it needs a new funding structure to allow it to keep pace with the industry and should apply larger fines that match not only the seriousness of the offence but also the size of the offender.

“We welcome this report and are already working on a number of the recommendations highlighted,” Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said. “As we made clear in our evidence to this and other committees, we need greater resources to be able to meet the challenges ahead. Our current funding arrangements do not give us the resources we need and we are working closely with DCMS to address that.”

In addition, the report called for a triennial review of the Commission’s work, something the APPG had also called for, with evidence from these reviews also presented in Parliament.

“We have made considerable progress in many areas to make gambling safer,” McArthur said. “We have tightened the regulation of the online sector and taken much tougher enforcement action against operators, including suspending and revoking licences. In the weeks ahead we will be publishing plans to remove potentially addictive features in games, further improve customer interaction and strengthen affordability checks.

McArthur added that the industry is already working on many areas the industry had raised, such as minimum spin times, stake limits and further research into gambling-related harm.

He also addressed criticism in the report, which suggested the regulator had only moved to ramp up enforcement following criticism.

“We recognise that criticism is something that all regulators face. Where the criticisms are justified we will learn from them, but as we have been completely transparent and candid in all the evidence we have given to the various committees, in many areas this and other recent reports are playing back issues we have raised, know we need to work on and are already working to improve,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gambling With Lives, a charity set up by families bereaved by gambling related suicides, also welcomed what it called a “landmark report”.

The report noted that the seven-yearly Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey included questions on gambling in 2007, but not in 2014 and said the 2021 Survey should again include questions on gambling and the prevalence of suicidal tendencies linked to gambling. In addition, it said he Notification of Deaths Regulations 2019 should be amended so that doctors should be able to inform coroners when they believe a suicide may be gambling-related.

“Gambling reform is now a matter of urgency,” Liz Ritchie, founder of Gambling with Lives, said. “If implemented the recommendations set out in this report would go a long way towards reducing gambling harm and ultimately saving lives. Gambling addiction can lead to death.”

Ritchie added that the combination of this report, the APPG report and one earlier this week from the Public Accounts Committee, which called for an overhaul in gambling regulation, shows the current regulatory structure is “outdated and in need of reform”.

“The government must not prevaricate any longer, lives are literally at stake,” Ritchie said. “They must immediately set out a timetable for a root and branch review of the Gambling Act. We look forward to contributing to that process and suicide prevention being a core part of it.”

Earlier today (2 July), Ladbrokes Coral operator GVC Holdings also backed calls for a review of the Gambling Act. Chief executive Kenny Alexander said that the operator would play a “full and active role” in the review when the government decides to go ahead with the process.

“This report is a thoughtful and measured contribution to the debate on how to ensure the regulated gambling industry can thrive, provide entertainment and enjoyment for the millions of Britons who like a bet,” Alexander said.