Carolyn Harris: Operators need to step up amid Covid-19

25 March 2020

Carolyn Harris, chair of the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), has called on British operators to step up efforts to protect customers amid the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Earlier this week the APPG wrote to industry trade group the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), urging its members to introduce a £50 daily gambling limit for customers. This, it said, would be a “clear demonstration that the industry is willing to act responsibly and do what they can to protect society and peoples’ finances”.

Speaking to iGB, the group’s chair and Swansea East MP Harris explained that she had already had many people inform her that they were being “inundated” with emails and texts from operators, tempting them to gamble online.

“[And] this is a worry because if you are a problem gambler and you have all of this extra time on your hands sat at home, we need to ensure these temptations are not there if they are trying to keep away from gambling,” she said.

“This is not the right time to be stepping up marketing operations - the providers need to be behaving responsibly and I think a £50 cap would demonstrate this.”

Harris, who has led the charge for wholesale changes to British gambling regulations, putting forward proposals for a £2 online slot stake cap, said it was “only fair” that operators introduce new restrictions.

“On countless occasions we have seen how a gambling addiction can completely ruin an individual's and their family's lives - pushing them into unmanageable debt and leading to detrimental effects on mental health for the problem gambler and the closest around them,” she said.

“With some betting bosses being the highest paid in the UK, making this adjustment to protect problem gamblers would be a fair compromise.”

Harris’ comments come after 888 Holdings yesterday said that it would be vigilant in its efforts to ensure customers gamble sustainably during the crisis. The operator explained that with people spending more time at home, and facing increased stress from economic uncertainty, it was especially important to protect players.

It said it would continue to offer customers support and is promoting the range of safer gambling tools it offers to players, as well as using its Observer software to monitor player data to identify potential issues.

Harris said the APPG would also look to do its bit to ensure problem gamblers still have access to treatment despite the social distancing controls necessitated by the pandemic.

“We know that there will be an increase pressure on services at the moment, as there is on all support services because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said. “Continuity of support for problem gamblers is key but it is obviously important that everyone is following the guidelines and advice around social distancing.

“The APPG itself does not have facilities to shift services online for problem gambling support services, but we are happy to engage with the relevant Ministers to ask for assistance when required, to help services achieve this move.”