Stuart Andrew: we need more research to understand extent of harm

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While the UK awaits action from white paper consultations, Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew admitted that research into gambling harm may be lagging behind, causing further gambling reform frustrations. 

Appearing before MPs, Andrew stressed the need for the consultations to result in a ‘balanced and proportionate’ approach to gambling regulation, as the UK Gambling Commission and DCMS continue to review the implementation of the Gambling Act review’s proposals. 

A balanced approach was a key focus of Andrew’s speech as the government’s awaited changes look to ensure safety and fairness within UK gamblers’ experiences, without negatively impacting them. 

The Minister stated: “I think what we’re trying to do here is bring about a balanced and proportionate approach, which addresses many of the changes that have happened in the gambling scene over the last 20 years, but also seeks to bring about a uniform approach amongst operators to to have a process in place to identify those perhaps, who are entering the risk of gambling harm.”

“I think what we’re trying to do here is bring about a balanced and proportionate approach”

Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew

While research played an integral part across the over two-year process of the Gambling Act review, Andrew explained that many of the resulting white paper’s headline proposals are in need of greater research and understanding to conduct necessary changes. 

An area highlighted for further resarch by the Minister was the extremely sensitive topic of gambling suicide, as recent research put the number of gambling-related suicides at 117 and 496, accounting for “10 per cent of all suicides across the UK” as one MP previously stated. 

However, these figures have become increasingly ambiguous following Andrew’s speech, which suggested that the UK government might not have the necessary resources to properly register the statistics. 

He explained: “I don’t think we as a government have actual definitive information that would say that X amount of suicides are a result of gambling harm. In some cases that will have been a cause, but there will potentially be other reasons as well.

“This goes back to the point that we need more research in this area to really understand this important piece of work. We want to have much better research and evidence to continue the approach we’ve already taken, which is evidence-led.”

This notion was also touched upon by UKGC CEO Andrew Rhodes, who expressed his own view that gambling-related suicide has been under-explored and underlined the commission’s determination to make the matter of research a priority. 

With this in mind, the UKGC is set to implement gambling-related suicide research into its Gambling Survey of Great Britain, in hopes that it will shine a light on ‘an area that is very difficult to say definitively what the position is’. 

“I think we’re probably behind the curve in terms of research”

UKGC CEO Andrew Rhodes

The white paper itself has also laid out plans to improve the nation’s overall research into gambling, having proposed a compulsory research, education and treatment levy to provide more funding for these areas. 

“I think we’re probably behind the curve in terms of research,” said Rhodes. “And I think that’s what this is why I think the introduction of the levy actually gives us a sort of generational change, if you like, in terms of the funding, and gives us an opportunity to have perhaps some of some of the best research in the in the world so that we can identify what are the issues that needs to be addressed in this area? 

“That’s what we’ve tried to do very much with this white paper, very heavy on evidence led on what data we have and what research we have available to us at the moment, to take that sensible approach.”

Touching on the latest updates from the consultations, Tim Miller, Executive Director of Policy and Research for the UKGC, provided an update on progress as the first set of consultations approach the deadline of October 18, having been opened in July.  

Set to be followed by the second set of consultations in Winter, the first round focuses on four focal areas: 

  • Financial risk and vulnerability.
  • Game design, including building in greater player protection.
  • Improving consumer choice on direct marketing – particularly regarding cross selling.
  • Strengthening age verification in venues.

Providing the update, Miller remarked: “The secretary of state gave a very clear steer that she wanted to see the white paper implemented at speed, and I think it’s fair to say that we were quick out of the box in getting that first set of consultations out there.”

“I am comfortable with our current position, but in the longer-term we will need to invest more money”

UKGC CEO Andrew Rhodes

Given constant delays with the white paper hindering its already damaged reputation following the handling of the Football Index collapse, the UKGC has faced scrutiny for years, leading the present MPs to question whether the regulator has the capabilities to carry out gambling reform. 

Defending the commission, Rhodes backed the regulator as being component enough to carry out its job, for now, but agreed that should the authority carry out more complex regulatory changes then it will require more resources. 

The CEO also reminded MPs that, compared to other regulators, the UKGC’s staff headcount of 351 is still rather low considering it manages one of the world’s largest gambling sectors. 

“If we are going to do more complicated things around regulation that will require resources to do it,” Rhodes declared. “I am comfortable with our current position, but in the longer-term we will need to invest more money and have more people with different skills.”