“Perfect storm of addictive 24/7 gambling” must be addressed
The House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry has issued a report warning that more needs to be done to prevent gambling-related harm. According to the Committee, the liberalisation of gambling by the Gambling Act 2005, the universal adoption of smart phones, and the exploitation of soft-touch regulation by gambling operators has created a “perfect storm of addictive 24/7 gambling”. The Committee expects the UK government and the regulator to make changes now. Many of the report's recommendations do not need legislation, and it says that all of them are urgent if consumers are to be protected and lives saved.
The Committee’s report sets out over fifty recommendations across different areas to reduce gambling-related harm. The people most at risk are also the most profitable to the industry: the greater the problem, the bigger the profit.
Recommendations relating to online gambling
The gambling industry offers a variety of products to consumers, including some which can be highly addictive. The Committee recommends that the Gambling Commission 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.
In addition, the committee recommends that the UK government should work with the Gambling Commission to establish a category system for online gambling products and use the online product categories to set stake limits for online gambling products. To ensure that the implementation of online stake limits does not lead to increased unregulated offshore gambling, the government and Gambling Commission should work with payment providers and banks to establish a scheme to block payments to such operators. The Committee also recommends the equalisation of speed of play and spin, so that no game can be played more quickly online than in a casino, betting shop or bingo hall. It also says that the minimum age at which an individual can take part in any online gambling should be raised to 18.
In relation to loot boxes, which have been the subject of controversy for some time, the Committee calls on the government to act immediately to bring loot boxes within the remit of gambling legislation and regulation. The Committee recommends that ministers make regulations under section 6(6) of the Gambling Act 2005 specifying that loot boxes and any other similar games are games of chance, without waiting for the government’s wider review of the Act. The Committee also goes further and says that section 3 of the Act should be amended to give ministers a power, analogous to that in section 6(6), to specify by regulations that any activity which in their view has the characteristics of gambling should be treated as gambling under the Act.
The government should commission independent research to establish the links between gambling advertising and gambling-related harm for both adults and children. 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. Advertisements which are objectively seen as offering inducements to people to start or to continue gambling, or which create a sense of urgency about placing bets, should be banned. The ASA and the Gambling Commission must act together to police this ban. The licence conditions should be amended to prohibit operators from sending communications offering inducements to bet to individuals, or identifiable groups of individuals, unless they have agreed to take part in VIP schemes (by whatever name these are called) which satisfy the conditions currently in force or any stricter conditions which are imposed.
Other key recommendations
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 report also recommends the creation of a statutory independent Gambling Ombudsman Service, modelled on the Financial Ombudsman Service, to settle disputes between gambling operators and gamblers.