Brigid Simmonds: The Gambling White Paper has been delayed – but the BGC’s work on raising standards goes on

29 Jul

Brigid Simmonds OBE is the Chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council

Another hectic political season has come to a close, and MPs have left Westminster, returning home for summer recess. Like many of us, their thoughts will turn to holidays, and the chance to recharge their batteries – no doubt with a very close eye on who wins the race to be the next PM. It is regrettable that they leave with the Gambling White Paper still unfinished. But that does not stop the BGC’s important work to raise standards, which goes on undeterred despite the delays.

The BGC was established to drive the kind of meaningful change that delivers on behalf of businesses and their customers, protecting the vulnerable and those at risk while not unfairly impacting on the enjoyment of the majority who bet safely. We want Britain to carry on boasting a truly world class betting and gaming industry. One that plays an important part in the communities in which it operates, creating jobs, investment and prosperity.

At the heart of this work is our determination to keep building a culture of safer gambling. Since the BGC was founded in 2019, together with our members, we have introduced scores of new safer betting and gaming measures, with more planned.

All of this work combined, is an investment in improved standards which is delivering safer gambling dividends. While the Gambling White paper will bring further changes, much of which we strongly support and have long campaigned for, these changes need to be proportionate, well thought through, and targeted on those who are vulnerable and on the 0.2 per cent of the population who are problem gamblers.

We don’t want to do anything that inadvertently drives any of the 22.5 million adults who enjoy a bet each month away from the regulated industry and into the arms of the unsafe, unregulated, and growing black market online.

That’s why we support enhanced spending checks online, but don’t want to see the Government enforce intrusive checks that compel punters to share private financial details. That risks driving punters to the illegal black market, threatening funding for sports such as horse racing which currently receives about £350 million in funding from our industry.

We also support changes to modernise casino regulation. However, there is a danger that the current draft White Paper will mean over half of the UK’s casinos will be disqualified from modernisation plans because they are deemed too small. If reports are to be believed, 70 of the UK’s 121 casinos will get no benefit from the relaxation of regulations, making them less, not more competitive.

These are issues that still need to be tackled, but that has not stopped the BGC forging ahead with our own work to maintain world beating standards, especially on safer gambling. Our members have committed to ensuring 20 per cent of all TV advertising is safer gambling messaging – backed by our ground-breaking Take Time to Think campaign. Now players are encouraged to take up options like deposit limits and time-outs. It’s encouraging to note the number of customers setting deposit limits has now increased by 20 per cent. Consistency of information on safer gambling tools across all our members has been achieved through a new Code worked on with the charity GamCare.

Meanwhile, BGC members introduced new guidelines on advertising on the biggest social media platforms, restricting paid for ads to those aged 25 and over for most sites. It was a significant step. Results from operators showed a 96 per cent drop in views of social media advertisements by those aged 18 to 24 in the final three months of 2020, compared to the same period the year before.

The BGC is also working with social media platforms and search companies to find ways of allowing individuals to unsubscribe from betting adverts, a further measure that will continue this important work by our members. Meanwhile on TV, the whistle-to-whistle ban on betting commercials during live sport before the watershed has led to a 97% reduction in the number of young people viewing betting ads and a 47 per cent reduction in ads between the World Cup and Euros 2020. We also introduced a Code to stop football clubs displaying ads on their websites showing betting odds.

Away from advertisements, our biggest members have voluntarily committed to contribute an additional £100m to Research, Education and Treatment programmes to tackle problem gambling. This contribution makes a real difference, giving excellent charities the funding security they need to plan ahead.

In addition, our members have provided £10m in funding for a Young People’s Gambling Harm Prevention Programme, delivered to children, teachers and youth workers across the UK by leading charities YGAM and GamCare.

Our members have also enforced a credit card ban on products and new codes on VIP schemes which have seen thousands of these accounts closed. They have also introduced changes to games design for slot machines to make it easier for customers to understand game characteristics and remove features which encouraged problematic play.

When Parliament returns in the September, they will have plenty of work to do. The White Paper must be delivered swiftly to ensure the industry, which supports almost 120,000 jobs and raises £4.5bn for the Treasury, is placed on a sure footing for a sustainable future. But whatever happens in Westminster, and whoever is PM, you can be assured, the goal and purpose of the BGC will not change. We know what we need to achieve, and that work to raise standards goes on

The post Brigid Simmonds: The Gambling White Paper has been delayed – but the BGC’s work on raising standards goes on appeared first on Conservative Home.

Brigid Simmonds: A Statutory Levy would be a big step backwards in tackling problem gambling

4 May

Brigid Simmonds OBE is Chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council.

Far too often emotion, instead of evidence, drives the debate around betting and gaming in the UK. Nowhere is this substitution felt more keenly than in the discussion about how problem gambling is tackled through Research, Education and Treatment (RET).

It is a perplexing paradox. Every month, some 22.5 million British adults enjoy a bet. According to the independent regulator, the rates of problem gambling in the UK are now at 0.3 per cent, down from 0.6 per cent 18 months ago.

No one at the Betting and Gaming Council is complacent about this; however, those figures are positive when compared to other European countries. In Italy the rate is 2.4 percent, Norway 1.4 percent, and France 1.3 percent.

To any dispassionate observer, the obvious conclusion would be that Britain boasts a rigorously regulated market that is keeping rates of problem gambling low.

For the past twenty years, the industry has rightly shouldered the financial responsibility for that work by paying a voluntary levy to fund independent charities tackling problem gambling.

Despite that, anti-gambling campaigners are demanding a new Statutory Levy on the industry, a new tax by another name, to fund RET.

That poses a key question: would a Statutory Levy given to the Department of Health and Social Care really make a tangible difference to delivery of RET and problem gambling rates in the UK? The clear answer, for me, is no.

We believe the current system is making good progress, and in any event, a blanket levy would not raise materially more money for RET. But it would disproportionately hammer casinos and bingo halls, where a one per cent hit on turnover equates to a 10 per cent hit on profits.

Under current arrangements, all companies regulated by the Gambling Commission are expected to make a voluntary contribution of 0.01 percent of turnover. In the year 2019/2020 this was £10 million.

Most of this funding goes to GambleAware, which is a totally independent charity – the industry has no say on how it spends that money. In their five-year strategy, published last year, they say they expect to see income increase to £39 million by 2023/24.

The increase has in most part been made possible by the decision of the four largest gaming companies (Entain, William Hill, Flutter and Bet365) to increase their contributions to one per cent of turnover, with a ratchet which began in 2020/21 that will reach the full one per cent by April 2024. That’s a total of over £100 million additional funding over four years.

All this funding goes towards tackling and preventing the causes of problem gambling, that is to say gambling that can have a negative impact on a player’s wellbeing.

Most problem gamblers do not thankfully suffer from addiction, and they need different, but nonetheless, important help. This is a distinct challenge to disordered gambling, or gambling addiction, which requires a clinical assessment. The two are often conflated, but they are entirely different.

If we were to compare betting to alcohol, you can see a parallel. For someone who drinks more than is good for them, that may have a detrimental impact on their wellbeing. But that is often manageable with advice and support, and wholly different from a chronic addiction to alcohol, which is where the NHS steps in.

Disordered gambling is a mental health problem and like many other mental health problems occurs alongside other addictions, like alcohol and drugs. It needs NHS care, but many of those who have different problems with gambling are helped by third sector charities, who are much better placed to help.

Despite this, the NHS still does not have a long-term strategy to tackle gambling addiction. It was only in 2019 that the Department of Health and Social Care announced they would open fifteen new NHS clinics for addicts, of which five are open and three more should open later this year.

Meanwhile the industry and charities have spent the last two decades busy getting on with the issue.

Currently, there around 160 locations used by charities for face-to-face counselling services, part of an already mature network of clinics, treatment centres and outreach programmes, which are making a real difference right now.

GamCare operates a National Help Line via telephone, face to face and online – and provides counselling services. An impressive 79 percent of users successfully completing treatment programmes.

Gordon Moody is a charity which provides residential treatment and over 70 per cent of those who use the service complete their treatment, while YGAM is educating a generation of school children, young people, and teachers about gambling harm and how to avoid it. There are many more.

A Statutory Levy would risk their funding models by potentially taking cash out of their coffers, and putting it into the NHS, which is not set up to deliver these services.

Furthermore, this clumsy one-size-fits-all approach would have a disproportionate effect on land-based operators including casinos, betting shops and bingo halls, which are only just recovering from the pandemic. In truth it would be catastrophic as they, like the rest of the hospitality sector, have so many fixed costs including staff, business rates, taxes and licences.

We say better to employ a tiered system which takes this into account, and would better protect jobs.

There is a clear argument that third sector charities are effective and making real progress. In contrast, a Statutory Levy looks like a retrospective solution for a problem that doesn’t exist at the levels anti-gambling campaigners want policy makers to believe.

Is it really designed to help RET or the general public – or is it a punitive measure to placate the anti-gambling lobby?

Any Statutory Levy will not boost funding for RET; the money is already in the system with a bigger, broader commitment going forward.

So think very carefully whether a statutory replacement would be better, would have better outcomes, and would help the vast majority of those who have a problem with gambling which can be helped outside of an NHS framework.

Andrew Woodman: Prohibition measures for gambling will merely empower the underground market

22 Nov

Andrew Woodman is a Cabinet Member on North West Leicestershire District Council.

They say what goes around comes around, and the current movement in the debate around gambling suggests that we’re potentially going backwards by a 100 years if some of those in the Gambling Harm APPG get their wish.

Now I do not doubt the good intentions of this group, however the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and some of the proposals coming from MPs associated with the APPG risk damaging not only the gambling companies, but also secondary industries such as horse racing and greyhound racing which employ tens of thousands and rely on betting to fund the sport.

For the benefit of transparency, I am a punter and have been for over 20 years. My interest in the industry has led me to read a book by Jamie Ward about a well-known bookmaker Victor Chandler, and a passage in it strikes me as highly relevant to the debate today. It recalls the world the bookmaker’s grandfather operated in when ‘hundreds of off course betting shops were closed in 1853 on the order of the Government, supposedly to protect innocent punters from dishonest bookies, but really to placate anti-gambling sentiment and control the behaviour of the lower orders.’ It goes on to point out that all prohibition actually achieved was to create a vast illicit off course industry which continued until the shops were legalised again in 1961.

At a recent party conference fringe meeting, one MP floated the idea of a maximum loss of £100 a month, and another stated he felt people were staking too much, and should therefore by subject to affordability checks. Apart from the fact that the 99 per cent plus of punters (thought to be 30 million people) who do not have an issue would be subject to intrusive checks on enjoying a perfectly legal pastime spending their own money, all this will serve to do is empower a black unregulated market, with Whatsapp replacing bookies runners, and a huge loss to revenue to sport and the exchequer. I know for a fact this is already happening and like all prohibition measures (for that is what these are), it will empower the underground market.

Then we have the latest idea to deal with problem gambling from the Gambling Commission and that’s the invidious ‘Single Customer View’. Notionally a plan to observe all the accounts held by punters to monitor those who are out of control, but more likely to be used by bookmakers to identify potentially unprofitable customers and ban or restrict their business. Although the Gambling Commission deny this, there are no details forthcoming from them on how this will be managed and by whom. Again, all this risks doing is driving punters to the unregulated black market.

It must be noted that according to the regulator, the rate of problem gambling is now 0.3 per cent, compared to 0.6 per cent at the end of September last year, that’s equivalent to a fall from 340,000 problem gamblers to 170,000 problem gamblers. What’s more, those classed as being at moderate risk of harm also fell significantly, from 1.2 per cent to 0.7 per cent, over the same period.

We Conservatives are seen as being pragmatic. Whether you are pro, anti or ambivalent about gambling, please do take a step back and look at this issue in a rounded way. There are many who would like to see gambling banned, but prohibition is like socialism, it’s been tried and it simply fails, you cannot control people in this way.

Far better to have a functioning betting industry which helps assist those prone to addiction and which contributes to the exchequer and the sports it relies on. The Gambling Commission would be far better served looking at the software bookmakers already used to identify winners (which has closed virtually all my accounts), to spot those at risk of harm, rather than investing in anti-punter big brother solutions. It’s clear the main problems are the unskilled slots and casinos rather than sports betting and it there that the main effort in identifying those at risk of harm should be pursued.

Brigid Simmonds: As the Government’s gambling review continues, ministers should listen to what voters really think about betting

15 Mar

Brigid Simmonds OBE is chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.

What voters think is vital to any Government or political party – quite simply, they won’t get elected, or win public support for a policy position, if they turn a deaf ear to ordinary people’s views.

So, as ministers continue their review of the Gambling Act 2005, it’s important for them to get a handle on what the British public actually thinks about betting. That’s why we at the Betting and Gaming Council commissioned 20 focus groups, plus a YouGov poll, to explore this important area. Those focus groups were mainly held in so-called “Red Wall” areas, parts of the North and Midlands which were formerly Labour heartlands but which largely fell to the Conservatives in 2019.

The call for evidence for the gambling review closes at the end of this month, and the Government has been clear that it wants the process to be evidence-led. What better way to ensure it is than by finding out what the general public thinks?

I am well aware that betting can divide opinion. For the 30 million people who enjoy a flutter, it is a leisure activity which is integral to British culture and society just as going to the pub is important too. This message really came across in the focus groups. As someone with a background in running the British Beer & Pub Association, sports governance and a keen sports fan, I could fully understand the woman in Birmingham who said: “All the women in my family we always go to Ladies Day. It’s a great day. People go for serious money. We put like £5 each on each race. We go with our bottles of Prosecco – all the girls. All our nans, aunties, cousins.”

As we begin to emerge from lockdown, it’s also important to remember the huge economic contribution our industry makes. Hopefully, betting shops will be able to safely re-open along with other non-essential retail on April 12. This won’t just be a boost for their employees and customers, but also for the wider economy, as research shows that 89 per cent of betting shop customers go on to visit other high street shops. Casinos are due to re-open on May 17 and they will over time play their part in the recovery of the tourism sector – something of real importance to me as a Director of the Tourism Alliance. 

A Gambling Commission consultation underway at the moment could result in all punters having to provide payslips and bank statements if they are deemed to be spending too much on betting. When this was explained to our focus groups, the response was one of shock and disbelief. This view was backed up by our YouGov poll, which found that 51 per cent of voters do not believe that politicians should set limits on how much they can bet, with only 27 per cent believing they should.

Affordability checks are good, but modern technology means that they can be targeted at customers displaying signs of harm, allowing interventions to be made. Our members also encourage their customers to set their own deposit limits, something which I fully support.

In the Red Wall, this whole issue tied in with their view that a culture war is being waged against their way of life, and that the Government is embarking on a post-Covid “mission creep”. There was clearly a belief that politicians are attempting to move further into deciding what they can and cannot do with their lives. The Conservative Party should bear in mind that there is something, well, un-Conservative about the state trying to play an ever larger role in people’s activities.

YouGov also found that 59 per cent of voters believe that if too many limits are placed on their ability to bet, people will shift to the unlicensed and growing black market. Given that these illegal operators have none of the safer gambling measures which are commonplace in the regulated sector – and also pay no tax – this is something the Government needs to be aware of.

There were lessons for our industry in the focus groups as well, with many of those who took part believing it is completely unregulated, particularly the online sector. This is, of course, untrue. Betting and gaming in the UK is among the most highly-regulated in the world.

That is not to say that more change isn’t needed – I would personally support that – but ministers need to make sure they get them right. Yes, there is much more that the industry can and will do, but at the end of the day, we want customers to bet in a UK regulated market which abides by the rules, with a clear emphasis on safer gambling.

The gambling review continue after the call for evidence ends on March 31, giving ministers – and the industry – plenty of opportunity to reflect on what our focus groups and polling found. We must all grasp it with both hands.

Christopher Snowdon: To reduce problem gambling effectively, use targeted measures – not blanket bans

11 Mar

Christopher Snowdon is Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs. He is the author of A safer bet: Gambling and the risks of over-regulation, published this week.

The Government launched a public consultation on gambling regulation in December, saying that it wanted to make Britain’s gambling laws ‘fit for the digital age’.

Now that fixed-odds betting terminals have been banished from bookmakers, online gambling has become the main target of anti-gambling activists. They have a wish list of things they want banned, including gambling advertising and sponsorship, VIP schemes and high stake games. Some have even suggested a legal limit on how much gamblers can spend each month.

These prohibitions are designed to tackle Britain’s supposed gambling epidemic, and yet a close look at the data shows that there has been no rise in the number of people gambling in the UK in recent years, and the amount spent on gambling was in decline even before the pandemic.

Fewer children are gambling than a decade ago and, whilst there is no doubt that pathological gambling can have serious consequences, rates of problem gambling have not risen in twenty years. At around 0.6 per cent of the adult population, our problem gambling rate is lower than in many countries which have stiffer regulation, and it is notable that the number of problem gamblers has not risen despite the growth of online gambling and the proliferation of gambling advertising.

The existence of problem gambling should not be used as an excuse for an endless crusade against an activity which provides harmless fun to the majority of consumers. A mental health problem that affects a small minority requires a targeted response. The NHS has opened a number of problem gambling clinics in recent years, and more are due to open by 2023/24. Offering help to those who need it is a far more constructive and effective approach than hitting all gamblers with bans and restrictions.

The measures proposed by some activists, such as slowing down games and limiting prize money, are not so much designed to help problem gamblers as deter anyone from gambling by sucking the fun out of it. That is not what regulation is supposed to do, and it carries risks of its own.

To operate and advertise in the UK, gambling companies have to abide by UK regulation and pay tax to the British government. Most gamblers are happy to use licensed websites, but that could change if games are made tedious and unexciting by over-zealous politicians. Recent research found that 4.5 per cent of UK online gamblers had used an unlicensed operator in the past twelve months, and 44 per cent were aware of at least one unlicensed gambling website. If the government makes the regulated sector less appealing, demand for the unregulated sector is likely to grow. The Government will get less tax revenue and punters will get less protection.

A smarter approach would be to use technology to our advantage. In the past, gambling companies often didn’t know who their customers were. Today, they not only know their customer’s name and address (which they cross-check with credit agency databases), but how much they spend, what they play and how they play. They know if a person has self-excluded from any other regulated website.

The ability of ‘Big Data’ to identify problem gamblers and prevent harm is unlike anything we have seen before. Players can set deposit limits, set playing times and opt out of receiving inducements, such as free bets. Algorithms are used to identify ‘markers of harm’, such as chasing losses, switching between products and playing late at night.

These red flags trigger interventions. A gambler who displays unusual behaviour might receive an e-mail reminding them about deposit limits, or be taken off mailing lists offering bonuses and inducements. Those deemed to be at higher risk will receive a phone call or be given a spending cap or have their account suspended, sometimes permanently.

Regulated online operators have a range of practical harm reduction measures available to them which target problem gamblers without infringing the rights of the average punter. Not every company uses their technology to prevent harm in the same way, but they could. Best practice could be made standard. It is these practical, sophisticated solutions, not the blunderbuss approach of anti-gambling activists, that should be the focus of the Government’s review.

Miles Briggs: The pandemic has hit betting shops hard. The Gambling Review must do nothing to hamper their recovery.

11 Feb

Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for Lothian and Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Horse Racing and Bloodstock Industry. This is a sponsored post by the Betting & Gaming Council.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns on our high streets is already obvious. Shuttered premises are commonplace in town centres across the UK, and the recovery of the economy will be long and hard.

It is vital, therefore, that governments in London and Edinburgh do nothing to make things more difficult than they already are.

As the Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Horse Racing and Bloodstock Industry, I am acutely aware of what the pandemic has meant for our betting shops – and the knock-on effect for horseracing, which relies so heavily on the funding they generate for the sport.

With shops closed for large parts of 2020 and no immediate prospect of them reopening, bookmakers – particularly the independent sector – are understandably worried about what the future holds for them and their loyal staff.

The additional £40 million funding from the UK government to help the industry through the pandemic was very welcome. However, the impact of Covid-19 on the sector is significant and the future is uncertain.

All of this is taking place at the same time as the UK government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act. I very much welcome the review and, with all the pressures and upheaval we have witnessed over the last year, it was encouraging to hear ministers say that the review must strike the right balance between protecting the vulnerable and not spoiling the enjoyment of the overwhelming majority who enjoy a flutter perfectly safely.

As a report last week by PwC showed, the unlicensed and unsafe black market will be the main beneficiaries if ministers get changes to regulation wrong and inadvertently drive ordinary punters in their direction.

Bluntly, the financial viability of sports like racing, darts, rugby league, snooker and much of football – which rely heavily on the support they receive from the regulated industry – is on the line.

I recently visited Midlothian-based bookmaker Scotbet’s Slateford Road shop in Edinburgh and met with management and staff to hear first-hand about the impact the Covid restrictions have had on the company and the wider industry.

In recent years we have seen the decline in the number of independent betting shops. The pandemic has sadly hit them especially hard, given their limited opportunities to adapt and develop online services. Scotbet is a good example of what has happened to high street bookmakers, with its shop numbers falling from a peak of 75 to just 30 today.

Across the UK, there are now 6,750 betting shops, a fall of around 1,600 in the past two years – denying local authorities around £15 million in lost business rates. Over the same period, the number of people they employ has also reduced by nearly 10,000, taking with them the income tax and national insurance they paid to the Treasury.

When you consider that the entire regulated industry – covering betting shops, casinos, bingo and online – contributes some £3.2 billion in taxes to the Treasury, it’s clear that anything that further impacts negatively on this should be avoided at all costs – especially as the Chancellor tries to repair the damage done to the public finances by Covid-19.

Local betting shops are also vital community hubs and are at the vanguard of attempts to promote safer gambling. Staff are trained to spot the signs of someone getting into trouble, and are able to direct customers towards the help they need.

The business challenges arising from the pandemic are significant and will take time to recover from – for all those, like me, who value horse racing across the UK, it is vital that we look to the future sustainability of the sector.

More recently, the Jockey Club has warned of a £60 million shortfall in its revenue if strict new affordability checks being considered by the Gambling Commission are introduced. These proposed changes have the potential to prevent millions of regular punters from placing a bet if the stake is deemed to be unaffordable.

Increased checks can be a good thing if they are targeted at vulnerable customers – but we should be wary of anything that risks driving mainstream customers to the unregulated black market, where there are none of the protections and safer gambling measures which are put in place by licensed operators.

The betting industry contributes around £350 million a year to racing through the levy, media rights and sponsorship, so any measures that affect the viability of betting will inevitably have a negative impact on the entire sport.

I sincerely hope that racing in Scotland – and across the UK – can bounce back stronger in the months and years ahead. A healthy racing industry is not just important for many local jobs, but also the supply chains it supports in places like Ayr, Hamilton, Kelso, Musselburgh, and Perth.

Thanks to the wonders of modern science and our amazing NHS, we are finally turning the corner on the pandemic. It would be a tragedy if well-meaning politicians inadvertently introduced changes which compounded the economic damage already done by Covid-19.

The Conservatives have an historic opportunity to turn Britain into a world leader in gambling harm prevention with a new Gambling Act

15 Jan

Derek Webb is campaigner and philanthropist funding Clean Up Gambling. This is a sponsored post by Clean Up Gambling.

As someone who has for the past decade supported and funded campaigns for gambling reform, I was pleased to see the article on this site by Lord Smith of Hindhead, whose policy recommendations should be easy for parliamentarians of all political stripes to coalesce around. This response elaborates on Lord Smith’s analysis.

Gambling reform covers a wide range of social, economic and cultural issues. Our campaign is a broad church, drawing together advocates from all political persuasions and parties, and many have argued that reform can only be achieved through a “whole government” cross-departmental approach to legislation and regulation. That is why it has been so disappointing that the review does not formally embrace all departments, instead creating a perception that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport – the department with responsibility for gambling – is marking its own homework. Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee identified weaknesses in Gambling Commission and DCMS oversight.

In addition to having the departments of Education and Health involved, I believe that it would have been preferable to involve both Treasury and the Ministry of Justice in the review. Gambling tax rates are an important tool in mitigating the socioeconomic consequences of gambling. Forms of gambling that are less harmful or create UK employment have a less negative net impact than offshore remote gambling.

The licensing objective of prevention of gambling being associated with crime, if interpreted logically, is being breached constantly. Persons stealing funds to continue gambling are being incarcerated, at a cost to their families and the taxpayer, with minimal assistance to avoid recidivism. At trial and at sentencing, relevant evidence regarding the conduct of the operators benefiting from the losses is not being provided to the defence. Operators in breach of anti-money-laundering laws are able to settle for amounts that are trivial to them.

Lord Smith correctly advocates that the review of gambling should be conducted fairly. Yet certain actors have a history of being unfair towards parliamentarians, the public and reformers. The offshore remote gambling sector has avoided aspects of UK taxation for 20 years, despite enjoying the benefits of holding UK licences. The whole remote gambling sector avoided gambling tax on their revenue until the introduction of the “tax at point of consumption” principle in 2014. Even then, the Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association tried to use the EU courts to avoid this tax, and still now many of these operators avoid UK corporation tax.

It is also unfair to attribute equal weight to all “evidence”, as we learned during the campaign to reform FOBTs. The Association of British Bookmakers provided statistics that have now been “discredited” about the impact of a stake reduction on shops and jobs, which were included in a KPMG report. As well as these misleading statistics on job losses and shop closures, once the decision had been made, there were exaggerated claims regarding the length of time needed to change FOBT stakes. Incorrect statistics, speculation and a report that was not shared widely do not constitute credible evidence. Those acting in the gambling reform space do not provide evidence that is influenced by vested or commercial interests.

In the years campaigning against FOBTs, we exhibited at a few Conservative party conferences. The most common response from grassroots attendees was the desire to restrict gambling advertising. With so many vested interests in sport and media, areas for which DCMS has responsibility, we can only hope that this aspect of the review gets a fair hearing. Polling by Survation has consistently found the strongest support for gambling reform is among Tory voters who supported Brexit.

This Conservative government has an historic opportunity to turn Britain into a world leader in gambling harm prevention, but to do so DCMS has to be prepared to act on the evidence by going as far as establishing a new Gambling Act. This government should not want to see a rerun of what happened with FOBTs. Ineffective industry-funded research and initiatives were used as an excuse to delay reform from 2013 to 2019. This time around, inadequate action on the part of DCMS could turn a potential positive for this government into a negative, by ensuring that gambling stays in the political spotlight for years to come.

Philip Smith: As the Government’s gambling review gets under way, here are some areas for consideration

11 Jan

Lord Smith of Hindhead is Vice-Chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform.

The recent launch of the highly anticipated gambling review is a welcome and important milestone as we head towards much needed reform of the gambling industry.

Peers for Gambling Reform, of which I am Vice-Chairman, was set up to drive the agenda for gambling reform forward. We are determined that this review brings about fundamental and positive change to our gambling legislation. Like the Government, I strongly believe that while the Gambling Act 2005 was suitable for its time, with the advent of the internet and the smartphone, it has quickly dated leaving us with an analogue rule book for a digital world where everyone with a phone can gamble 24/7 if they want to. Effectively there is a potential supercasino in everyone’s pocket, except a person can gamble there unsupervised and unprotected.

It is for this reason that I commend the Government on the ambitious scale of this review – but if change is to be effective, the gambling review must ensure at least three things.

First, reform of the industry must be fair and take an evidence-based approach. Conclusions must not have been influenced by vested interests from either side of the debate. While we fundamentally need to protect people who have been suffering far too long from the harms associated with some parts of the gambling industry, this once in a generation reform must also ensure the industry is still able to continue to thrive, grow and contribute to our economy and local communities. We should also not underestimate the contribution our land-based sector makes as UK tourist attractions, such as casinos and the arcades at our seasides.

A fine balancing act is indeed needed if this review is to be fair to the industry while at the same time reforming the parts of it which are letting the sector down so that we also ensure the vulnerable are protected from gambling-related harms. Which brings me onto my next point.

Second, a thorough review is needed into how we can protect vulnerable players in a multi-disciplinary way. We are not simply seeing one gambling product that is the cause of harm, neither are we seeing one particular section of society that appears to be more at risk of harm than others – I have heard harrowing evidence from men and women from all walks of life on the impact of gambling addiction.

This review can therefore help a wide audience, and there are many areas and ways where legislation that currently fails to protect vulnerable players can be improved. For example, changes should be made on a number of areas that would almost immediately protect players such as the need for effective affordability checks for customers, changes to game design such as the speed of play and stake limits online, the reform of VIP schemes and gambling regulation for loot boxes, licencing tipsters and affiliates so they are brought under appropriate code of conduct standards, and raising the age limit for those who can participate in the National Lottery and buy tickets in a Societies Lottery – and I say that as Chairman of the National Conservative Draws Society.

Furthermore, to truly tackle gambling-related harm in a multi-disciplinary way, one government department simply cannot spearhead this review alone and it is concerning to see the omission of the Department of Health and the Department of Education in having a leading role in the review. This review should be cross- departmental in order to tackle the wide range of issues that are contributing towards harm and may have the ability to provide the solutions to the problem, such as treatment and education.

Third, the review must deal with the proliferation of funding and urgently find an alternative funding mechanism for sport. The “gamblification” of sport is now very real. We are bombarded with gambling advertising during sports games on our TV screens, online and on football shirts. Half of the Premier League’s 20 clubs and 17 out of the 24 Championship clubs have gambling companies on their shirts and the Football League itself is sponsored by a gambling operator.

We must remember that children are just as exposed to this kind of advertisement as adults and evidence suggests children are more likely to be negatively impacted from exposure to gambling advertisement. Shockingly, the number of 11-16 year old problem gamblers has just increased from 55,000 to 62,000. The problem is getting worse and time should not be wasted.

Although I understand that many different sports are reliant upon sponsorship and advertising funding, a difficult situation has arisen over time where the majority of sports funding is now far too reliant on the gambling industry and we urgently need a solution to this.

Actions by Lewes Football Club demonstrate that there is another way around funding and sponsorship for sport as they are surviving without any form of gambling sponsorship and I hope there are many more clubs to follow. The current situation is out of control and without genuine will and action from sports clubs, the Government may soon be forced to intervene.

We now have an opportunity to right some of the wrongs we are seeing within the industry to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected from gambling harms and critically, we can address the alarming issue of children and gambling. If parts of the gambling industry are unable to self-regulate and act responsibly, operators who do act responsibly and recognise that a long term customer is always better than a short-term gain, then enforcement through tougher legislation is highly likely be the direction that ends up being taken.

My hope is that we can get to a point where a person who may be facing problems, and who really wants to stop gambling when it is harming his or her wellbeing or lifestyle, can do so swiftly and has the ongoing help and support they need; and where all the responsible operators who provide safe environments are able to carry out their business without the need for additional regulation and interference.

Until then, there are clear areas where progress can and should urgently be made which both treats the industry fairly and recognises its importance to our social activities and economy while fundamentally protecting those who need it most. These are Conservative initiatives and something which all Conservatives should be able to get behind.

Scott Benton: We are right to reform the UK’s gambling laws – but we must not drive punters into the arms of the black market

29 Dec

Scott Benton is the MP for for Blackpool South. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.

A year ago, I was proud to stand for election on a Conservative Party manifesto which pledged to review the UK’s gambling laws.

The 2005 Gambling Act, the manifesto said, was “increasingly becoming an analogue law in a digital age”. I agreed with that sentiment then, and I continue to do so today. And judging by the fact I managed to win my Blackpool South seat by defeating the sitting Labour MP, plenty of voters must share my opinion.

As the UK’s premier seaside holiday destination, my constituents know all about the importance of betting as a leisure industry, while our casino also attracts plenty of much-needed tourists to the area.

But they also know that the gambling laws must be fit for the 21st century – protecting the vulnerable while not spoiling the enjoyment of the millions of Brits who enjoy a flutter, and ensuring the industry continues to thrive and make a vital contribution to the economy.

So it was a great day when, earlier this month, my Tory colleague Nigel Huddleston kicked off the gambling review with a 16-week call for evidence, thereby honouring our manifesto commitment.

I took part in the Commons debate which followed, and used my contribution to make an important point. While reform is essential, the Government must be wary of doing anything which drives punters towards the illegal, online black market.

A report by the highly-respected PwC revealed that 200,000 customers used an unlicensed gambling operator last year, resulting in an estimated £1.4 billion in turnover. Those are people who will have received none of the protections or safer gambling messages prevalent in the regulated industry. And none of that money is returned to the UK Treasury through taxation.

PwC also found that unlicensed operators accounted for 2.5 per cent of gambling website visits, which amounts to an incredible 27 million visits. In addition, nine per cent – nearly one in 10 – of all gambling search results were for black market sites. And worryingly, 47 per cent of punters are aware of at least one black market operator. When you consider that 30 million Brits enjoy a flutter, that gives you an idea of how many people could potentially fall into the clutches of the unscrupulous black market if the Government gets the gambling review wrong.

In my opinion, a successful review will strike the right balance between protecting the vulnerable and not spoiling the enjoyment of the vast majority of people who enjoy a bet perfectly safely. It’s important to remember that, according to the Government’s own data, the rate of problem gambling is 0.5 per cent and has been stable for the past 20 years.

Conservative ministers are right to identify this as an issue which must be tackled, but it must not be at the expense of damaging a regulated industry which is – in my opinion – doing great work on safer gambling while also making a valuable contribution to the UK economy.

Matt Zarb-Cousin: Gambling controls have worked. Will the Government take them further?

3 Dec

Matt Zarb-Cousin is the Director of Clean Up Gambling. This is a sponsored post by Clean Up Gambling.

“Stop the FOBTs” (fixed odds betting terminals) was an initiative launched in early 2013 by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, founded and funded by gambling expert Derek Webb, who brought me in as a campaign consultant and spokesperson.

Its objective, an FOBT stake reduction from £100 to £2 per spin, was finally introduced in April 2019. Recently released Gambling Commission statistics show a full year of data to March 2020, with the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown spanning just 11 days of this timeframe.

In line with the trend, the number of betting shops declined six per cent from 8,320 to 7,681 due to bookmakers converting shop gamblers to more profitable remote gambling with a lower overall tax burden and lower employment costs.

This contrasts sharply with the Association of British Bookmakers’ (ABB) KPMG report, which Philip Hammond referred to in his time as chancellor. It forecast a decline to as few as 4,500 shops.

As reported in The Guardian, betting shop machine revenue declined 41 per cent to £1,075 million – down £751 million from £1,826 million. Over-the-counter betting on races and sports also decreased.

There was a decline in revenues on games at stakes in excess of £2 by £1,142 million, but an increase in revenue at stakes of £2 and below by £390 million. By far the greatest crossover was players trading down stakes, but staying on betting shop machines.

This confirms the notion that placing a restriction on a specific gambling product can have the desired impact of reducing losses at that activity and reducing losses in total.

All the evidence indicates that there was no consequential crossover from the £751 million decline in betting shop machine revenue to any other land-based or remote sector.

Gaming machine revenues in casino, bingo and family entertainment centres remained constant, while an increase in adult gaming centre revenues continued the trend of the past several years. All casino table game revenues declined, with a minor increase in electronic gaming failing to offset the resulting overall decline in casino revenues from £840 million to £801 million.

Remote gambling revenues for bingo and casino increased in line with previous years, and while betting revenues at first sight look like a large increase, this was only due to betting result in the year prior being less helpful to the bookies than usual. It is therefore consistent with the long-term trend of increased remote betting revenues.

National Gambling Treatment Service statistics show the activities that disordered gamblers refer to when presenting for treatment. The ‘”betting shop machine” references decreased from 26.4 per cent in 2018-2019 to 20.3 per cent in 2019-2020, a relative decrease of 23 per cent — the most significant change in any activity. This data clearly confirms the logic that loss reduction results in harm reduction.

Webb continues to support the gambling reform agenda, and funds Clean Up Gambling. Decreasing FOBT stakes was a sensible change to outdated legislation, and has had a hugely positive impact. We look forward to the Government’s comprehensive review of our outdated gambling laws, and its thorough consideration of the evidence.