UK Gambling Minister: 'Significant Reform' Needed

March 9, 2022
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The UK minister in charge of gambling policy has said reform is “long overdue” and promised the government’s Gambling Act review white paper will be published “very, very soon”.

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The UK minister in charge of gambling policy has said reform is “long overdue” and promised the government’s Gambling Act review white paper will be published “very, very soon”.

Speaking at the Gambling Reform Rally in Westminster, organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling-Related Harm (APPG) and Peers for Gambling Reform, gambling minister Chris Philp said he cannot reveal the contents of the white paper, but warned lawmakers are backing “significant reform”.

Philp, who suspects he is the first minister in charge of gambling to speak at such an event, said he recognises a need to protect people more and warned of the “dark paths” gambling firms entice consumers down.

The rally was organised by some of the gambling industry’s harshest critics in Westminster, who are calling for changes such as tight affordability checks and a near-total sports advertising ban.

Philp said affordability checks are needed as the government can no longer “rely on self-regulation”; however, he caveated his speech with a call for a “balanced, proportionate, evidence-based” drive for change.

“Small amounts of betting wouldn’t be appropriate to have intrusive checks. But there are definitely levels of more significant losses, [where] we are looking at these interventions,” he said.

When exploring these issues, the government is also looking into privacy concerns, according to the minister.

“Everyone is at risk of gambling addiction, but many people can gamble reasonably. Prevention is better than cure and that is why we do see it as a public health issue,” he said.

Technology and data are key to reducing harm, according to Philp, who said: “We need a regulator that has powers and capabilities to get hold of that data and to analyse it, and ensure compliance.”

“The Gambling Commission will shortly publish about enhanced requirements for customer interactions. That will also be addressed in the review,” he said.

A need for more clinics to offer treatment was also discussed by Philp, who pointed out the NHS has already committed funding to get to 15 clinics in “the next couple of years”.

Additionally, Philp said “over 400 suicides a year just isn’t acceptable” and urged attendees to write to their local MPs to share their compelling personal stories about how they have been affected.

In separate speeches, MPs and APPG members Ronnie Cowan and Iain Duncan Smith also made calls to have people lobby their local MPs for change.

Cowan said he can understand where Philp’s calls for “balanced, reasonable, proportionate” changes are coming from, but said his “reason has run out” as the gambling industry has “treated consumers so badly for so long”.

“We can’t aim to just make [gambling] palatable, we must rip up the Gambling Act and start over again. If the government has the will to change legislation, they can do it now,” Cowan said.

Duncan Smith urged gambling trade groups to stop “dripping poison” into his fellow MPs' ears, stressing how he thinks every time the industry has warned of money or jobs being lost due to reform “it is not true”.

“I am not against gambling, I am against going after vulnerable people and those who cannot afford it. Enough is enough,” Duncan Smith said.

In November 2021, the APPG and Peers for Gambling Reform sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister urging for the introduction of online stakes comparable with the £2 fixed-odds betting terminal (FOBT) stake limit.

The letter also called for more stringent affordability checks, banning inducements to gamble, tougher regulations for VIP schemes, stricter ad controls, a statutory industry levy to fund addiction services, loot box regulation and a gambling ombudsman.

Prior to the official start of the rally, a small roundtable discussion took place between gambling reform supporters and people with lived experience of gambling problems.

The discussions were led by Matt Zarb-Cousin, Gamban co-founder and the director of Clean Up Gambling, and included moving testimony from parents, loved ones and other people affected by gambling harm and even suicides.

Pleas for reform were made to the industry and lawmakers, ranging from calls to restrict or remove all TV and radio advertising, as well as demands to introduce a statutory levy to ensure research does not rely on industry contributions.

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