Minister warns of ‘mandatory levy’ to address gambling-related harm

Addressing the 6th edition of the GambleAware Conference at the King’s Fund in London this morning, Mims Davies, UK minister for sport and civil society, shared her “early reflections” on the challenges facing the gambling sector and stressed that the recent gambling review would not be the end of government action on the matter.

Gambling-related harm affects a diverse cross-section of society, said Davies. Acknowledging that many people enjoyed gambling responsibly, the minister said the government “doesn’t want to stop people having fun” but stressed a need to strike “the right balance between freedom and protection.”

“Socially responsible business is the only kind we want to see in this sector,” she said, “to keep it fair, safe and free from crime.” Davies reiterated that the government expects the Gambling Commission to continue to take a strong line on social responsibility.

Operators have a unique position to deliver rapid interventions, Davies said, adding that she expects to see progress on this front, referencing concerns around mounting credit-card debts. “We need to make people feel supported and encourage them to ask for help,” she said, citing the “hidden nature” of addiction.

Supporting action on gambling-related harm is now a priority for Public Health England, which Davies said was a huge step forward. “We should focus on prevention as well as the cure,” she said.

“Profits are not my major concern, REDUCING HARM IS MY CONCERN”  – MIMS DAVIES MP

Her reflections complete, the minister soon added some bite to her keynote: “Profits are not my major concern, reducing gambling-related harm is my primary concern.”

She said that the government would consider a “mandatory levy” on operators if it was felt the industry was not taking sufficient steps to address the responsible gambling.

Echoing the theme of this year’s conference, Davies stressed that diversity is key to progress, highlighting the need for a stronger evidence base in terms of research as a basis for educating people “about what is healthy and enjoyable – and also about what help is available”.

Welcoming the April 2019 introduction of both the RGD increase, to 21 per cent, and the drop in FOBT stakes, to £2, Davies reinforced the government’s view of “these gaming machines” and also took time to highlight the possibility of “risky gambling behaviour” being hidden online.

Again, she shift the onus of responsibility onto the operators, stressing that it falls upon online operators to use their extensive customer data for the early identification of potentially harmful behaviour.

“Let me be clear,” she concluded, “I expect the industry to take steps to identify and minimise gambling related harm,” adding that the government would not hesitate to “take strong action”.