Please be assured that I recognise the importance of this issue. Ever since I was on the Health Select Committee, I have realised that gambling addiction has been a significant cause of people taking their own lives. I also have had constituents come to see me about loot boxes and the devastating impact they can have on the lives of online gamblers and their families.
For many, gambling can be fun but I recognise that, for others, it can become a serious problem. While we all want a healthy gambling industry that makes an important economic contribution, we must also protect those that use it from harm.
Operators must be licensed by the Gambling Commission and comply with the accompanying conditions. In 2019, the Gambling Commission introduced new rules to ensure operators verify customers’ age and identity details quickly and robustly. Furthermore, in 2020, the Government and Commission provided further protections, including a ban on credit card gambling, making participation in the self-exclusion scheme GAMSTOP mandatory for online operators, and new guidance for operators to identify customers who may have been at heightened risk during the pandemic. For further information on GAMSTOP, please search: https://www.gamstop.co.uk/
I understand Public Health England’s review of gambling-related harms did not find evidence that exposure to advertising is a risk factor for harmful gambling. However, I am reassured that my ministerial colleagues are aware that gambling advertising can negatively affect some groups, such as those with gambling problems, and that some aspects of advertising can appeal to children. While rules are already in place to prevent advertising from causing harm to children and vulnerable people, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) has recently implemented strengthened protections for adults who are vulnerable to gambling harm. A further announcement on new rules aimed at reducing the appeal of gambling adverts to children is also expected shortly.
I am delighted that the Government recognises that the Gambling Act 2005 is an analogue law in a digital age. A review of the act was launched in 2020 and examines online restrictions, marketing and the powers of the Gambling Commission. Furthermore, protections for online gamblers like stake and spend limits, advertising and promotional offers and whether extra protections for young adults are needed are also being explored. I understand that the Government aims to set out its findings in a White Paper in due course.
In preparing the Gambling White Paper, I understand the Government is giving full consideration to the impact of proposals, including on the Horserace Betting Levy, and Ministers and officials have held regular meetings with both the British Horseracing Authority and the Gambling Commission. The White Paper, and any subsequent consultations, will include the necessary assessments of impacts. The Government has also committed to review the Horserace Betting Levy by 2024 to ensure the sport is suitably funded for the future.
More broadly, the Government recognises the unique contribution that horse racing makes to the UK's sporting culture and in particular to the rural economy.
I can appreciate the concerns about gambling advertisements. Broadcasters have discretion over how advertising breaks are set and what adverts are broadcast, as long as they comply with the advertising codes. These codes set rules such as preventing gambling adverts from airing around any programmes that particularly appeal to children. All gambling advertising, wherever it appears, is subject to strict controls on content and placement enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority and Ofcom.
The gambling industry’s own Code for Socially Responsible Advertising also includes restrictions on televised advertising, such as a ban on showing most forms of gambling advertising before 9pm, and the ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban preventing betting ads from airing during and immediately before and after live sporting events.
As part of the broader scope of the Government's review of the Gambling Act 2005, the review will look at the impacts of advertising and marketing by gambling operators, wherever it appears.
I am very concerned at how many cases we hear of operators failing to meet their duties to protect people. For example, the Gambling Commission recently levied a huge fine against an online gambling company for breaches of their responsibilities to prevent harmful gambling and investigate their customers’ source of funds. In that particular case, the gambling firm was fined £9.4 million by the Gambling Commission because they allowed an NHS worker who was only earning £1,400 a month to set a deposit cap at £1,300 a month, over 90 per cent of their monthly income.
I echo the Minister's words that this is simply not right, and it should not take the Gambling Commission acting after the event to catch them because it should not happen in the first place.
I understand that the Gambling Commission is looking at the role technology and data can play in preventing harm from arising and I will follow developments closely. Furthermore, the Gambling Commission will soon publish its enhanced requirements for customer interaction, thereby making sure gambling operators are doing proper checks, and the Government is looking at this in their review too.
I appreciate the concerns over the impact of the Gambling Commission’s consultation, specifically in regard to affordability checks. I want to stress that the proposals focused on more prescriptive requirements for operators to identify and intervene with customers who may be at risk of harm. This included a specific process for assessing affordability and particular consideration will be given to the spending/loss threshold at which it might be proportionate to require operators to complete affordability checks.
The Gambling Commission's report can be found online at: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/strategy/raising-standards-for-consumers-compliance-and-enforcement-report-2019-20/triggers-and-customer-affordability. As you will see, in response to evidence showing some gamblers may be at greater risk of harm during lockdown, the Commission published new guidance for online operators to help reduce the risk of harm in these unprecedented circumstances.
You may also welcome that the Government committed to striking the right balance between freedom of choice and protection from harm while reviewing the Gambling Act 2005. I will be sure to scrutinise whether this commitment has been delivered on when the Government sets out its findings in due course.
I appreciate the concern that skilled betting is being considered alongside non-skilled betting, such as slot machines and bingo, under the Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005. This review is examining protections for online gamblers (including stake and spend limits), advertising and promotional offers, and whether extra protections for young adults are needed. I do, however, understand that the Government is aware that online gambling on slots, casinos or bingo games is associated with a higher rate of problem gambling (9.2 per cent) compared to online betting with a bookmaker (2.5 per cent). Furthermore, I have been assured that the review aims to make certain that the Gambling Act is fit for the digital age, striking the right balance between protecting vulnerable people from gambling related harm, while also respecting the freedom of adults to choose how they spend their money and leisure time. I have the utmost confidence that the Government is taking these points into account as it conducts the review.
For further information on the review, please search: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-the-gambling-act-2005-terms-of-reference-and-call-for-evidence/review-of-the-gambling-act-2005-terms-of-reference-and-call-for-evidence.
Finally, I understand the concerns about the Future Fund. However, I would like to reassure you that this fund uses a set of standard terms with published eligibility criteria. The process provides a clear, efficient way to make funding available as widely and as swiftly as possible without the need for lengthy negotiations. The fund seeks to support businesses throughout the economic disruption caused by the pandemic and continue their long-term growth projection. Further, you may be interested to know that neither the Government nor the British Business Bank chose specific investments.