Modern gambling: Calls for reform are growing

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The Gambling Commission estimates that there are about a third of a million British adults experiencing a gambling problem

Since I last wrote on the subject for the Birmingham Brief the chorus of voices calling for reform of British gambling regulations has grown still further.

NHS England now says, ‘The NHS is facing a rising tide of gambling related ill health’. Their data show the number of gambling related hospital admissions has more than doubled in the last six years from 150 to 321. Of course, we know this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Gambling Commission estimates that there are about a third of a million British adults experiencing a gambling problem and a further half million gambling in a way that puts them ‘at risk’. They estimate that over 50,000 under 16s have a gambling problem. The NHS Director for Mental Health, has been outspoken, saying, ‘… more people than ever before are being egged on by shameless gambling firms… the gambling industry, which takes upward of £14 billion a year from punters, must take the blame…‘

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm has produced an Interim Report into the Online Gambling Sector which also does not mince its words. The sector was described a few years ago as being akin to the Wild West and the report suggests little has changed. Promotion of online gambling is still aggressive, the report says, age and affordability checks are inadequate, there is evidence of unfair treatment of customers, and broadcasters and others have colluded in a system that causes people harm. 

After holding a consultation, the Gambling Commission has decided to ban gambling operators accepting payment with credit cards, from April. At the same time all online operators must, by then, have signed up to GAMSTOP which makes it possible for anyone to request self-exclusion from all licensed online gambling providers at the same time. Gambling is now clearly no ordinary commodity. Requiring operators to provide customers with the opportunity for self-exclusion, and banning the use of credit cards, are clear admissions of how extraordinarily dangerous the modern gambling ‘product’ really is.

In their election manifesto, the Government said it would carry out a review of the 2005 Act which they describe as, ‘increasingly becoming an analogue law in a digital age’. It is vital that such a review will not be limited in its scope. What is needed now is a fundamental rethinking of our basic approach to gambling regulation. I shall be lending my support to campaigning for radical change to the way gambling is regulated. There are many changes that are needed but the priorities for change are:

  • A new Gambling Act that sees gambling first and foremost as a public health issue rather than as primarily a business opportunity
  • A National Strategy for Gambling produced by Government
  • Funding of prevention, treatment and research to be increased and administered by a body completely independent of the industry
  • Greater control of advertising including advertising in association with sport
  • A minimum age of 18 for all gambling and measures taken to control the introduction of children to gambling via social media
  • The introduction of loss limits
  • Banning of dangerous gambling design features
  • Reducing the ease or immediacy of accessing funds for gambling
  • A proper comprehensive system of NHS treatment for gambling problems and support for affected families.

For more information please access Gambling Watch UK and those of organisations campaigning for change. They include Gambling with Lives which has been active since 2018 and has been very successful in raising the issue of gambling’s harm to individuals and families and specifically the link with suicide and the Fairer Gambling Campaign which worked tirelessly between 2012 and 2019 to get the FOBT gambling machines’ maximum stake reduced. 

Jim Orford - Emeritus Professor of Clinical and Community Psychology, the University of Birmingham/author of, The Gambling Establishment: Challenging the Power of the Modern Gambling Industry and its Allies, published by Routledge, October 2019.