Time to act to reduce gambling-related harm, says Lords report

A poker table © Drew Rae from Pexels

Evidence from a Lancaster University expert has been included in a report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry, published this week.

Dr Carolyn Downs, a Senior Lecturer from Lancaster University Management School who has researched gambling since 2001, submitted her evidence to the Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry back in 2019.

She outlined problems with the 2005 Gambling Act when it comes to protecting children and other vulnerable people from gambling, and said firms were not contributing enough to curb the industry’s negative effects.

Commenting at the time of her submission, Dr Downs said the Gambling Commission fines issued to companies for breaching duty-of-care towards those affected by addition and problem gambling were not enough. She called for specific regulation around the duty to identify potentially vulnerable people, and to ensure they are offered suitable support.

The report outlines 66 recommendations - five of which relate to additional measures around affordability checks to reduce gambling related harm.

Dr Downs said: “The report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry is a welcome addition to recent work on UK gambling regulation from the National Audit Office and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm. These three reports are clear that gambling regulation in the UK needs a significant overhaul to ensure the protection of people vulnerable to harm who are participating in gambling, while the urgent need for adequate funding for research, treatment and education cannot continue to be overlooked. The House of Lords has prepared a route for more effective regulation of an important part of the UK leisure industry, it now remains to be seen if this will be adopted by the government.”

Lord Grade, Chair of the House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee, said: “Most people who gamble, enjoy it safely. However, gambling related-harm has made the lives of two million people miserable. It leads to hundreds of people each year taking their own lives, leaving families and friends devastated. 

“The behaviour of some gambling operators, where vulnerable people were targeted with inducements to continue gambling when the operators knew they could not afford to, shocked the Committee. 

“Urgent action by the Government is required. Lax regulation of the gambling industry must be replaced by a more robust and focussed regime which prioritises the welfare of gamblers ahead of industry profits.

“Addiction is a health problem which should be treated by the NHS and paid for by gambling industry profits. The Government must impose a mandatory levy on the industry. The more harmful a gambling product is, the higher the levy the operator should pay.

“Only time will tell if the harm caused by gambling has been exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown. 

“Our report makes some 66 recommendations which we believe will begin to the address this huge problem.”

The Committee’s key recommendations include: 

  • The gambling industry offers a variety of products to consumers, including some which can be highly addictive. The Gambling Commission should create a system for testing all new games against a series of harm indicators, including their addictiveness and whether they will appeal to children. A game which scores too highly on the harm indicators must not be approved. 
  • The equalisation of speed of play and spin, so that no game can be played quicker online than in a casino, bookmaker or bingo hall. 
  • The Gambling Commission must explain the minimum steps which operators should take when considering customer affordability, and make clear that it is for the operator to take the steps which will enable them to identify customers who are betting more than they can afford. 
  • The creation of a statutory independent Gambling Ombudsman Service, modelled on the Financial Ombudsman Service, to settle disputes between gambling operators and gamblers. 
  • The Government must act immediately to bring loot boxes within the remit of gambling legislation and regulation. 
  • Gambling operators should no longer be allowed to advertise on the shirts of sports teams or any other visible part of their kit. There should also be no gambling advertising in or near any sports grounds or sports venues. 
  • Problem gambling is a common mental health disorder, and the NHS has the same duty to treat it as to treat any other disorder. Last year the NHS promised to open 15 new clinics. It should do this before 2023 and establish a comparable number within the following few years. 

This week an open letter to Ministers - co-signed by Dr Downs and a host of other leading UK academic scientists - was published in the BMJ, calling for a statutory levy on gambling firms to reduce gambling-related harm.

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