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Analysis: Gambling Commission must avoid FOBT saga with credit card consultation

Another week in Great Britain means another contribution from the Gambling Commission. Three, in fact, with the regulator this week discussing gambling within video games, the National Lottery and credit card gambling.

CreditCards

But for those asking "oh no, what has it done this time?" hold your horses.

Following restrictions of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT), there were a few hot topics the Commission could have targeted. Online stakes may still feel the wrath of regulatory restriction, while the rise of social media and the current discussion on advertising also find themselves on the to-do list.

The Commission however, has prioritised credit card gambling. In so doing, it has offered a sensible, measured evaluation of the state of play. If you're surprised, you're not alone.

On its website, the regulator confirmed it will hold a 12-week consultation from mid-August, reminding readers it recently called for evidence on the topic. The public and "all other stakeholders" will be consulted and the option of banning credit card gambling will be explored.

But the Commission is intent on emphasising, at this stage, the optional nature of any restrictions. In fact, the Commission "is clear it must take account of the impact of a ban on gamblers who are not experiencing gambling harms."

This is as potent a point as ever, as those "not experiencing harms" are the majority of gamblers. As Gambling Insider has previously pointed out, credit is an option available to consumers not just in gambling but in everyday life. You can run up just as much debt shopping for clothes as you can playing online casino.

There will equally be players who gamble with credit cards and still play well within their means. In other words, there must be a sensitive balance between those at risk and those not.

So far, the Commission has acknowledged this – and is making all the right noises. It’s further down the line where things could get misty; where the regulator needs to avoid a repetition of the FOBT saga.

As discussed in the latest GI Huddle Podcast, a regulatory body needs to be independent. If it ignores operators complaining about fines or sanctions, it must also ignore the noise of biased politicians and partial, agenda-driven stakeholders. This wasn’t the case with FOBTs.

The Commission’s role appeared a confused one as it tried to please everyone, stating after the event it had recommended reducing FOBT limits from £100 ($124.89) to £30, rather than the eventual £2. It did not fight hard enough to make the voice of reason heard at the time, just like when it handed the results of its children gambling research exclusively to the Daily Mail in November.

Once the Commission’s credit card consultation is complete, there will be commentators spouting baseless rhetoric about the evils of the gambling sector. There will be media publications quoting 12-year-old research which contains the smallest sample sizes imaginable.

The regulator will have to block these out, maintaining the acknowledgement there is no "epidemic" when it comes to credit card gambling, as some politicians would have you believe. The same politicians whose past bandwagoning is now landing them in the midst of controversy.

I regularly tell people in interviews and meetings I can’t wait for the days I no longer have to write about FOBTs. But, like all history, the lessons of the FOBT saga should not be forgotten.

The gambling industry cannot begrudge appropriate, fair restrictions being enforced if there is genuine evidence to support their enforcement. In the past however, that is exactly what the sector did not get.

Let’s all get it right this time, starting with the Commission. It has begun promisingly; here’s hoping it stays that way.

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