UK Trade Group Challenges Public Health Recommendations

August 24, 2022
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The Betting and Gaming Council has been rattled by a raft of 81 recommendations made in a study funded by Public Health England (PHE), calling their potential impacts on the gambling industry “worrying”.

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The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has been rattled by a raft of 81 recommendations made in a study funded by Public Health England (PHE), calling their potential impacts on the gambling industry “worrying”.

The BGC made the comments on social media after a separate article critiquing the evidence base used to form the public health recommendations was written by Dan Waugh of UK-based consultancy and research firm Regulus Partners, appearing in the Racing Post.

The study’s 81 proposals were chosen by a consensus of 34 public health experts, including researchers and practitioners, for policies and interventions to reduce harmful gambling.

Recommendations made by the experts include operators’ duties rising each year above the rate of inflation, an advertising and sponsorship ban, as well as a levy on all UK operators’ gross profits for prevention, education, research and treatment.

BGC CEO Michael Dugher reacted on social media, writing: “When campaigners say ‘I’m not anti-gambling’ there is always a big ‘but’ that comes next. Prohibitionists, who use a ‘public health approach’ as a means to ban stuff, want to treat betting like tobacco not booze i.e. something that is harmful to all. The problem gambling rate is 0.2 percent.”

MP Carolyn Harris, who is also chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Gambling Related Harm, responded to Dugher's concerns by comparing him to a “petulant child who can't get their own way”.

“Honestly, if you are not saying yes to the status quo on gambling regulation — you are a prohibitionist, anti-gambling, or in my case a Methodist!,” Harris said ironically.

When contacted by VIXIO GamblingCompliance, the BGC said it would not be commenting on this issue further.

On social media, the trade group republished lines from Waugh’s article stating: “A taxpayer-funded study on gambling was recently published in The Lancet. It proposes reforms that would all but destroy the licensed betting industry in Britain.”

Waugh said there are “a lot of issues” with PHE’s analysis that gambling harms cost England £1.27bn, including “methodological flaws” that caused mistakes in calculations that “pretty much invalidate” its estimate.

Even the Department of Health and Social Care has admitted that PHE made a “mistake” in its treatment of deaths by suicide associated with problem gambling and has committed to a review, in response to a freedom of information request made by Waugh and seen by VIXIO.

Despite this, public health studies are creating proposals based on these findings.

“To a certain degree, all parties in the debate have presented information or evidence that supports their agenda. It may not be edifying, but it is not surprising. However, it is clearly less acceptable when it's a state agency doing this. We should question whether taxpayer money should be used to fund research in support of a prohibitionist agenda,” Waugh told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

“No-one is denying that disordered gambling involves severe harms and the absence of hard data is rightly a concern. Absence of evidence, however, does not justify fabrication of evidence. The generation of spurious cost estimates muddies understanding and frustrates meaningful attempts at evaluation. If the baseline data has been made up, how can we ever measure progress?"

Waugh also questioned the value of an approach from PHE that looked solely at the negative societal impact of gambling, rather than attempting to understand both costs and benefits.

Alongside the BGC, former Sky Bet CEO Richard Flint appears to agree with Waugh, saying “much of this is quite shocking”.

“I support tighter regulation of gambling in some areas but some 'public health experts’ want to put us on a path to eliminating legal gambling in the UK. This is a profound misunderstanding of the issue — moderate gambling is not where the harm is,” Flint said in a social media post.

Separately, the BGC is urging the next UK Prime Minister to protect the hospitality and leisure sector from what it warns could be “catastrophic” energy price hikes.

Dugher warned that the “cost of simply doing business is rising at an exponential rate. If urgent action isn’t taken soon, continued energy price increases could have a catastrophic impact across the hospitality and leisure sector, including hitting our members”, in a press release on August 22.

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