UK regulator unveils new strategy to tackle gambling harms

25 April 2019

The Gambling Commission of England, Scotland and Wales aims to make faster progress on reducing gambling related harms through its new National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, with a focus on improving prevention and education efforts and enhancing treatment and support.

The three-year initiative will run from 2019 to 2022. It will see the regulator work alongside public health bodies, charities and businesses to develop a strategy for preventing gamblers from developing problems, as well as developing a series of relevant interventions for those that develop dangerous habits.

This is one of two strategic priorities set out in the strategy, alongside the development of a new plan for the treatment and support of problem gamblers. 

The Commission will continue to strictly enforce social responsibility controls on operators, as well as ramping up research into gambling related harm. This will see the regulator explore the possiblity of establishing a National Research Centre for problem gambling, and work towards creating a central data resource to support research. The strategy will be continuously monitored and evaluated to ensure it is successful in fulfilling its aims. 

This, Gambling Commission chair William Moyes said, would help regulators, public health bodies and the industry better understand the harms caused by gambling. The strategy had been designed to move away from "simply counting problem gamblers" to instead gain more insight into how gambling causes harm, he explained.

“The success of this strategy relies on everyone working together to reduce gambling harms through prevention and education, and treatment and support," Moyes continued. "Everyone has a role to play to combat gambling harms and I’m delighted that the health sector, charities and businesses are showing their commitment to get behind the strategy and make it a success.”

Public Health England (PHE) will play a key role in this, conducting the first ever review of evidence on gambling related harm in England. The review will look at the range and scale of gambling harms, and identify the impact of gambling on peoples’ health and wellbeing.

Rosanna O’Connor, director of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and justice for PHE, welcomed the strategy's approach of treating gambling related harm as a public health issue.

"There is an urgent need to develop a better understanding of these harms and how best to respond to them and PHE has been commissioned by Government to undertake a comprehensive independent evidence review on the public health harms of gambling,” she said.

Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Mims Davies, also spoke positively about the strategy, saying it reflects government expectations that the whole sector should come together to reduce problem gambling.

“Protecting people from harm should be at the heart of every gambling business," Davies said. "Addiction can ruin lives and it is vital that those who need help are given the right treatment at the right time.

“Through increased research, education and treatment I want to see faster progress made in tackling this issue.”

Problem gambling charity GambleAware worked with the Commission in developing the new strategy and its CEO Mark Etches has praised the regulator for its efforts. However, he added, more needed to be done to tackle problem gambling.

Etches added: “Last year, 30,000 people received advice from the National Gambling Helpline and 9,000 people were treated via a national network of providers we fund.

“However, less than 3% of the reported number of problem gamblers access services so it is clear there is much more to be done in raising awareness about this serious public health issue.”

The launch of the strategy sees the Gambling Commission take direct control of its implementation, something that had previously been handled by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB). The RGSB, which has been rebranded as the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG), will shift to a more advisory role as a result. 

The previous three year strategy, which was in place from 2016 to 2019, was seen by the RGSB in having helped achieve progress in certain areas, such as having problem gambling recognised as a public health issue. It also saw prevention strategies become more sophisticated than simply promoting responsible gambling, the board added. However, the RGSB said the 2016-19 strategy ultimately "moved neither far enough nor fast enough" to develop a coherent national approach to problem gambling or evaluating the most effective forms of harm prevention.