Analysis: Industry response to House of Lords shows sensible change is needed

By Iqbal Johal

It seems a week can’t go by in the UK gambling industry without a report or criticism of how the industry deals with problem players.

Earlier this week, a parliamentary report into problem gambling by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised the Gambling Commission for failing to understand the impact of gambling harms, saying the Commission needs a “radical overhaul.”

Meanwhile, last month, the Gambling-Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) suggested an array of changes to online gaming in the UK.

The APPG’s recommendations included a ban on all gambling advertisement and VIP schemes, as well as a £2 ($2.51) online slot limit.

At the time, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) said such changes could drive people away from gambling safely, to betting on the black market. These two reports didn’t seem to take the entire picture into consideration with its recommendations, with the APPG report striking of being more political than genuinely encouraging change for the better.

And now a third report has emerged. The Time for Action report from the House of Lords Gambling Industry Select Committee outlined 66 recommendations it expects the UK Government and Gambling Commission to implement.

The key recommendations include the banning of gambling advertisement on the kits of sports teams, and near any sports venues, along with an annual levy on operators to fund problem gambling treatment and research, as well as a games testing system.

There was also calls for the Government to work with the Gambling Commission to devise a new funding structure and a comprehensive review of the 2005 Gambling Act.

The changes presented seemed, on balance, much more sensible and fairer than previous recommendations, noticeable by the industry’s reaction.

Gambling Commission CEO Neil McArthur welcomed the report, saying it is already working on a number of the recommendations, while BGC CEO Michael Dugher agreed with the need to make gambling safer.

GVC CEO Kenny Alexander went further by supporting a review of the Gambling Act and reinforced the need for more research to be pumped into dealing with problem gambling.

While the coronavirus pandemic leading to an increase of online play has arguably accelerated the process for change, there’s little doubt tighter measures need to be brought in to protect young and vulnerable players.

That was backed by the recommendation to regulate loot boxes, which can be accessible to minors on certain video games, and the banning of bet-to-view, which encourages customers to place a bet to watch a sports event.

The report outlined several statistics, which it said will only get worse if change isn’t made. It said half the adults in the UK gamble at least once a month, with around 300,000 defined as problem gamblers, around 0.7% of the adult population. It also said 55,000 of those problem gamblers are aged between 11 and 16, although the methodology of determing this is unclear.

The banning of gambling advertising on sports shirts will certainly be one of the most divisive recommendations. While they won’t take effect for clubs below the Premier League before 2023, there’s obvious logic behind the thinking. For the 2019/20 season, 10 Premier League clubs displayed gambling advertising on their shirts, which increased to 17 in the Championship.

There’s sports betting logos and sponsorship everywhere you turn when watching football, either in person or on television, making it hard for the millions of children and vulnerable people who watch to ignore.

But on the flip side, changes to gambling advertising have already been made, with the whistle-to-whistle advertising ban reducing sports advertising by 84% since being introduced last summer, according to the BGC. There’s also the fact such sponsorship provides sport with funding and the ability to broadcast more sport. A compromise made instead of a full ban could be more agreeable in this instance. At the end of the day, what kind of free market discourages the advertising of a product?

Perhaps reducing accessibility is the key point and tighter advertising restrictions, and affordability checks, will help with that. As psychotherapist Jason Shiers told Gambling Insider earlier this week, addiction goes further than just gambling, with the perception of addiction purely focused on the symptom being the actual problem.

He believes human-to-human connection from someone with prior experience of harms, or who has been educated about what is really going on with the end user, is what is required. While that is certainly a suitable suggestion, there are plenty of the 66 recommendations that do make sense, whether the industry likes it or not. This time, it does seem change is coming.

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