In December, the committee stated its intention to examine the government’s approach to gambling, in the wake of warnings that “more needs to be done” to protect people from gambling-related harms.
A number of government bodies – including the Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office and a House of Lords committee – have called for more action to fight problem gambling, with both the Gambling Commission and DCMS singled out criticism.
As such, the committee will investigate a number of issues relevant to industrial regulation, such as links between gambling and sport, technical advances in the sector, as well as the progress the government have made in dealing with the issues that have been raised in Parliament.
“Gambling acts as an enjoyable pastime for large numbers of players, but regulation is struggling to keep pace with the rapidly changing way in which it happens today,” said Julie Elliott MP when the committee was announced. “This puts people at risk of the devastating harm it can sometimes cause to lives.”
The inquiry into the UK’s approach to gambling is being conducted in the shadow of the government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act, which concluded last year.
The next stage in the process will the issuing of a White Paper, which will be a Whitehall policy document which will recommend a number of specific policy proposals. While the report has been delayed a number of times, the government now says that it is expected to be released “shortly”.
The Gambling Commission provided an overview of the UK regulatory environment, as well as sought to answer a number of questions posed by the committee.
The regulator provided a particularly detailed response to question of whether it is possible for a body such as it to continue to stay abreast of innovation in the online sphere.
“The pace of change in the online gambling industry gives rise to new risks, opportunities, and regulatory challenges, which as a regulator we must be equipped to understand and respond to,” said the Commission.
The organisation also took note of the way in which digital developments have changed the relationships that consumers have had with operators – which it warned has the potential to impact young people who are present in adjacent online spaces such as social media.
In order to stay ahead of transformation in the online sphere, the regulator highlighted its establishment of a Digital Advisory Panel to advise it on the evolving landscape and emerging trends.
Industry trade body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), on the other hand made repeated reference to the Gambling Act Review White paper in its submission document.
It highlighted the popularity of gambling activities in the UK, the Commission’s statistics on the relatively low levels of problem gambling, as well as what it described as a “strong culture” of safer gambling among industry.
Despite this, the BGC said that it understood that further change was needed.
“However, the sector also understands the deep sensitivities around the issue of gambling harm and its responsibility to support and work towards reducing such harms and providing support to those who need assistance for problem gambling,” said the BGC’s submission document.
“The sector stands ready to implement the measures emanating from the White Paper.”
British Medical Association
The UK medical doctor professional association and trade union, the British Medical Association (BMA), argued that gambling disorders should be “recognised as being as serious and complex a medical problem as other addictions and be able to be treated on the NHS.”
In this context, the BMA proposed four main approaches that government should undertake to better regulate gambling.
The body said that there should be restricted advertising for gambling in the UK in order to “help control exposure”. In service of the goal, the BMA added that the DCMS should look at options for reducing the spread of gambling advertising, ranging from restrictions to outright bans.
The second proposal submitted by the trade union was that gambling research and prevention should be funded through an independent process. It emphasised that the current model – wherein businesses in the sector make voluntary contributions to a central charity which funds research – “is not appropriate”.
Widely rumoured to be a provision of the upcoming White Paper is the implementation of a statutory levy which would be imposed on gaming companies to replace the voluntary system.
The BMA also argued that prevention should receive increased resources.
“There should be a focus on public health approaches to tackle gambling harms through a combination of prevention methods, including restricted advertising and marketing, restricting licenses and availability, and strengthening regulatory frameworks,” said the association.
In additional to these recommendations, the professional body also said that a cross government approach is needed, arguing that the decisions to regulate gambling should be made jointly by the DCMS and the Department of Health and Social Care.