UK: Influential group of MPs calls for total ban on gambling advertising

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Exclusive: report proposing far tighter regulation for industry could shape government review

Gambling adverts should be banned, an influential group of more than 50 MPs and peers has concluded in a report that calls for the biggest shake-up of Britain’s gambling laws in more than a decade.

MPs who have spent a year gathering evidence on gambling-related harm will on Tuesday publish proposals that could shape a government review of how the £11bn industry is regulated.

The cross-party group, which has previously campaigned successfully for a ban on credit card bets and the curbing of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), will urge much tighter controls on a sector that has grown rapidly in recent years.

The proposals, seen by the Guardian, envisage a complete overhaul of the 2005 Gambling Act introduced under Tony Blair’s Labour government.

They include:

  • A ban on gambling ads, both on TV and online

  • An end to VIP schemes and inducements to bet

  • A £2 stake limit on online slot machines

  • Independent affordability checks

  • Controls on gambling game design

  • A new ombudsman to resolve disputes

Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who leads the all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm alongside Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith and the Scottish National party’s Ronnie Cowan, said: “They [gambling firms]

have shown time and again that they will not effectively self-regulate. Urgent change is needed to stop this industry riding roughshod over people’s lives.”

The report’s most eye-catching recommendation is a total ban on advertising, a proposal that likely to face opposition from both commercial broadcasters and some gambling firms.

Betting advertising has boomed since it was permitted by the 2005 Gambling Act, although the industry signed up to a voluntary restriction during daytime sports broadcasts last year.

The MPs also called for independent affordability checks to ensure that people do not gamble more than they can afford, voicing concern that firms are not moving fast enough to develop such controls.

“They have algorithms where if you are spending significant sums, they can make you a VIP, or send you a bonus email, both of which are to their commercial advantage,” the report said.

“So, there is no reason why this data cannot be used to prevent gambling harm.”

The Gambling Commission, the industry’s regulator, recently recommended curbs on controversial VIP schemes, whose members account for the majority of some companies’ income.

The programmes reward customers for losing large sums of money with “free” bets, cashback on losing wagers, or gifts such as football tickets. They have been cited in 70% of cases where firms are penalised for failure to prevent problem gambling.

The MPs said the commission’s proposals, including an age limit of 25 on membership of the schemes, were inadequate, and called on the commission to act “decisively” by abolishing the schemes altogether.

The regulator also came in for criticism from the MPs for its overall efficacy.

The MPs said it was “not fit for purpose” and echoed concerns expressed by the National Audit Office about its budget of just £19m and its failure to adapt to technological change.

The Gambling Commission said it was “committed to drastically reducing gambling harm and it is untrue to say that we are not fit for purpose”.

The MPs want the regulator to be significantly beefed up and complemented by a new gambling ombudsman who can address disputes between customers and firms.

The publication of the group’s interim report last year wiped hundreds of millions of pounds off gambling company shares.

The final report reiterates some of its proposals but also makes more detailed suggestions to better regulate potentially addictive or dangerous features of online games.

This includes reducing the “spin speed” of games such as online roulette and reviewing psychological tricks such as “near misses” that imply players came close to winning and might do so if they spin again.

The MPs also call for the extension of a measure – introduced by the industry during the Covid-19 lockdown at the behest of the Gambling Commission – to stop allowing reverse withdrawals.

Considered a sign of problem gambling, reverse withdrawals are when a customer transfers money from their gambling account to their bank but cancels while the transaction is pending, feeding the money straight back into betting.

A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council, the industry lobby group, said: “We are committed to making more changes and driving up safer gambling standards further and we look forward to working with the government on their forthcoming review.

“It’s important that those who claim not to be anti-gambling or prohibitionist do not drive customers to offshore, black market, illegal operators that don’t have any safeguards, rather than in our current heavily regulated industry that supports over 100,000 jobs and pays over £3bn in tax.”

Matthew Gaskell, clinical lead for the NHS northern gambling clinics, said: “The report signals that we must take gambling related harm as a serious and significant public health issue for our country.

“We can and must do better to ensure that we ensure that our regulations do as much as possible to protect people from the harms associated with these products.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jun/15/exclusive-mps-call-for-total-ban-on-gambling-advertisements