Gambling reform in the digital age

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Oral statement by the Culture Secretary on the white paper setting out government’s plans for major reform of gambling laws.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the Government’s proposals for gambling reform.

Gambling is a hugely popular pastime and one that has been a part of British life for centuries.

Ours has always been a freedom-loving democracy where people are entitled to spend their money how they please and where they please.

And millions choose to spend some of their hard-earned money on the odd bet on a match or a race without any problems.

This popularity has seen our betting companies balloon in size and become big contributors to both our economy, and in the taxes they provide for our public services.

But, with the advent of the smartphone, gambling has been transformed.

Today, in 2023, it is positively unrecognisable from when the Gambling Act was introduced in 2005.

Temptation to gamble is now everywhere in society. And while the overwhelming majority is done safely and within people’s means, for some, the ever-present temptation can lead them to a dangerous path.

Because when gambling becomes addiction, it can wreck lives. Shattered families. Lost jobs. Foreclosed homes. Jail time. Suicide.

These are all the most extreme scenarios, but it is important we acknowledge that for some families those worst fears for their loved ones have materialised.

Parents like Liz and Charles Ritchie whose son, Jack, took his own life while travelling in Hanoi after years of on-and-off addiction.

Gambling problems in adults have always been measured in terms of money lost, but you cannot put a cost on the loss of dignity, the loss of identity and in some cases, the loss of life, it can cause.

We need a new approach that recognises a flutter is one thing. Unchecked addiction is another.

So today we are bringing our pre-smartphone regulations into the present day with a gambling White Paper for the digital age.

But before I go into the details of how we remove some of the current blindspots in the system, I want to pay tribute to my right honourable friends, the Members for Croydon South, and Maldon, and to my honourable friends, the Members for Mid Worcestershire, Folkestone and Hythe, and Sutton and Cheam…

…as well as my predecessors, my right honourable friends, the Members for Hertsmere, Mid-Bedfordshire and Chippenham – who have all led the work at various stages, and in particular the current minister for Sport, Gambling and Civil Society, my right honourable friend, the Member for Pudsey, who has driven this work in Government over recent months.

There have also been some outstanding contributions to the debate on this issue from individual members in both this House – including my right honourable friend, the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, my honourable friends, the Members for Tewkesbury, Shipley, Stoke on Trent (North, South and Central), and the honourable Members for Swansea East, Inverclyde, and Sheffield Central – and from the other Place.

The proposals encapsulated in our blueprint draw on that knowledge, and combine it with the best available evidence and insights in the 16,000 submissions we received in response to our call for evidence.

That is what this White Paper will deliver, with proposals for reform that cover six key areas.

Proposals that build on our strong track record of acting in punters interests, with existing measures like…

…cutting stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in 2019

…banning credit card gambling in 2020

…reforming online VIP schemes in 2020

…introducing new limits to make online slots safer in 2021

…upgrading rules on identifying and intervening to protect people showing signs of harm online in 2022.

Firstly, we want to tackle some of the challenges unique to online gambling.

Campaigners have expressed to me that one thing that differentiates problem gambling from so many other forms of addiction, is that it can often take place in secret.

So we are going to force companies to step up their checks on when losses are likely to be unaffordable and harmful for punters. Companies already have to intervene when they know a customer is spending vast sums. But this change will better protect those least able to afford even small losses.

And on top of these checks, we plan to bring online slots games more in line with bricks and mortar equivalents with a stake limit on online slots of between £2 and £15 – subject to consultation.

Secondly, we know many addicts find each time they break free from the temptation to gamble, they are drawn back into the orbit of online companies with the offer of a free bet or some free spins.

So to help stop problem gamblers being bombarded, the Gambling Commission has beefed up its rules on online VIP schemes – already resulting in a 90% reduction in these schemes – and it will now consult on making sure bonus offers are not being deployed in ways which only exacerbate harm.

And that brings me to the third area, which is our regulator.

We can all agree that we need a robust, data-savvy and proactive regulator which can stand up to the giant companies it regulates. So, my Department will make sure the Gambling Commission has the appropriate resources to support this work and deliver the commitments across the White Paper.

No one should be denied an innocent flutter, but the public should not have to bear the cost of treatment when a punter becomes an addict.

So, one of the most important changes it will introduce – and one backed by both campaigners and many in this House – will be a new statutory levy to turn the tables on problem gambling. One that will see gambling companies required to fund more new groundbreaking research, education and treatment.

The fourth element is about redressing the power imbalance between punters and gambling companies when things go wrong.

Those people who do find themselves having lost out due to operator failures need to know that all is not lost, so we are going to work with industry and the Gambling Commission to create a non-statutory ombudsman that gives customers a single point of contact.

The fifth part of this is one that I know unites this whole House, which is doing more to protect children.

Gambling is an adult activity and it must remain an adult activity.

That is a major reason why I applauded the decision taken by the Premier League to remove gambling sponsorships from their shirt fronts in the coming seasons.

And it is the same reason we are ensuring children can do no forms of gambling either online or on widely accessible scratchcards.

Finally, we know the current status quo disadvantages casinos, bingo halls and other traditional premises, compared to their online equivalents.

A number of assumptions which prevailed at the time of the 2005 Act now look increasingly outdated, so we plan to rebalance regulation and remove restrictions which disadvantage the land-based sector.

Mr Speaker, almost every Member of Parliament will have met constituents whose lives have been blighted by gambling harm.

The online world has transformed so many parts of life – and gambling is no exception. It’s our responsibility to make sure our rules and regulations keep up with the real world, so that we can protect the most vulnerable while also allowing everyone else to enjoy gambling without harm.

I look forward to working with every member of this House to bring our gambling rules into the digital age.

I commend this statement to the House.”

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