As the betting and gaming industry awaits the outcomes of the 2005 Gambling Act review later this year, it is ‘vital’ that legislators follow an evidence-led approach to reach a balanced conclusion.
This is the view of Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, in a comment piece penned the The Telegraph, who reiterated the importance of safeguarding public health concerns “while also protecting people’s personal freedoms, jobs and businesses”.
“Around 30 million people – nearly half the population – gamble on the National Lottery, bingo, in a betting shop or casino, and increasingly online,” he explained. “When I quote that figure to my former parliamentary colleagues, most are surprised at how high it is.
“This poses an interesting challenge to ministers charged with introducing the biggest shake-up of our gambling laws in years. It is vital they make good on their promise that future changes will be ‘evidence-led’.
“But it’s important we strike the right balance between protecting the vulnerable, and not spoiling the enjoyment of the overwhelming majority of people who enjoy a flutter safely and responsibly,” argued the BGC chief.
The former Labour MP and shadow cabinet member further maintained that ‘huge strides’ have been made in recent years with regards to player protection, especially relating to online gambling.
As referenced by Dugher, the primary forms of betting carried out by 11 to 16 year olds are private bets between friends, scratchcards, fruit machines and card games – which fall outside of the BGC’s remit.
Additionally, although a UK Gambling Commission report found that the number of young people gambling has fallen from 23 per cent in 2011 to 11 per cent in 2019, Dugher maintained that this figure is “still far too high”.
“I hope one of the big priorities for ministers in this review will be child protection,” Dugher remarked. “We need to build on the good work, funded by the industry, to better educate youngsters about gambling-related harm.
“There have always been people who are anti-gambling – prohibitionists who want to ban stuff. They compare gambling to drugs or tobacco, things which are intrinsically and universally harmful, rather than alcohol – something that most people don’t have an issue with, but where we need to act to help the minority who develop a problem.
“That’s why they want to ban advertising and sponsorship, despite there being no evidence that it causes problem gambling. They may not care about the impact this would have on rugby league, darts, snooker and lower league football, but ministers should. It would, for example, likely be the end of horse racing on terrestrial TV.”
He continued to explain how anti-gambling campaigners “don’t want to see safer gambling – they want to see less gambling”, highlighting that stricter regulation may well see the regulated industry shrink in size, but it will not lead to a reduction in gambling.
“If people are restricted from betting with licensed operators, with all their safer gambling measures, they will simply move to the many unlicensed, unregulated and unsafe gambling websites in the black market.”
Additionally, a report by PwC showed the number using unlicensed sites has more than doubled to 460,000. The amount of money staked on the online black market is now in the billions of pounds.
Furthermore, the report also pinpoints countries including France, Norway, Italy and Spain – which have tougher restrictions on licensed operators – as examples of where the black market share is far bigger than the UK.
Citing a recent survey by Racing TV, Dugher highlighted that 85 per cent of punters believed that there is a danger consumers would move towards the unregulated black market should restrictions be implemented, whilst 95 per cent of respondents would not be happy if bookmakers were to have access to their bank accounts or if they were made to hand over payslips as proof of funds.
“It’s worth remembering that Betting and Gaming Council members support 119,000 jobs on our high streets, in hospitality and in world-leading British tech, and generate £4.5bn a year in tax. A smaller regulated industry means fewer jobs and less revenue for a Chancellor who needs every penny he can get.
“How the government safeguards jobs and personal freedoms, prevents gamblers drifting off to the unsafe black market, and ensures more protections for the vulnerable and those at risk, without interfering in the enjoyment of millions of responsible gamblers, is a balancing act.”