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Commitment to child protection shows the betting and gaming industry’s determination to raise standards

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering and Baron Watts of Ravenhead | Betting And Gaming Council

4 min read Partner content

A year on from the launch of the Government’s Gambling Review, we are now just weeks away from the resulting white paper.

It’s important to be clear from the outset that we have both strongly supported the Review. It’s obvious that the Gambling Act 2005 is no longer fit for purpose, given the incredible advances in technology which have taken place since it was passed. Change is clearly necessary.

However, as they prepare to set out their latest thinking on the matter, we would urge ministers to ensure that the changes they introduce strike the right balance between rightly protecting the vulnerable and not spoiling the enjoyment of the vast majority of people who enjoy a flutter.

When the Review was first launched last December, it was reassuring to hear ministers say that it would be an evidence-led process. We believe that the evidence of the past 12 months shows that the industry is determined to raise standards and promote safer gambling.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the work being done to protect young people. According to the Gambling Commission, the main types of gambling by 11 to 16-year-olds are private bets, scratchcards, fruit machines and playing cards, not with betting and gaming operators. Moreover, the number of young people admitting to gambling in the previous four weeks fell from 23 per cent in 2011 to 11 per cent in 2019.

Nevertheless, the regulated industry has introduced a number of measures to ensure young people are protected. These include new rules aimed at ensuring children cannot view gambling ads on football clubs’ official social media accounts. Members of the Betting and Gaming Council have also introduced new rules restricting their adverts to those aged 25 and over for most social media platforms.

This is in addition to the whistle-to-whistle ban on TV betting commercials during live sport before 9pm, which has reduced the number of such ads seen by children at that time by 97 per cent. Meanwhile, the industry is also funding the £10m Young People’s Gambling Harm Prevention Programme, which is delivered by leading safer gambling charities YGAM and GamCare.

Research by analysts Serve Legal also revealed that betting shops’ record on age verification checks are better than those of supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol forecourts.

Casinos are also part of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS), which ensures that their premises are no-go zones for anyone under the age of 18. Holders of age verification cards bearing the PASS hologram must pass stringent checks to prove their age so that they are able to enter establishments which are off-limits to under-18s.

This evidence may be inconvenient for those campaigning for a reduction in all gambling – rather than just problem gambling – including some of our Parliamentary colleagues, but they are facts nonetheless, and the Government should take heed of them.

Ministers should also be aware of research by PwC which showed that the number of people using illegal, unsafe online betting sites – which make no attempt to establish how old their customers are – more than doubled between 2019 and 2020, while the amount staked on them rose from £1.4bn to £2.8bn. Our fear is that if the Government fails to strike the right balance, customers will instead turn to these unregulated, black market sites, leading to an inevitable rise in rates of problem gambling.

On that, the latest figures from the Gambling Commission are encouraging. They say that problem gambling rates have fallen from 0.6 per cent to 0.3 per cent, while the rates of those deemed to be at risk of problem gambling are also trending downwards. This is proof that the industry’s work on safer gambling is having an impact, but also shows that there is more work to do.

We should also remember that the regulated betting and gaming industry is a major economic driver, supporting 119,000 jobs, generating £4.5bn in tax and contributing £7.7bn in gross value added. It is also a vital contributor to sports like horseracing, which receives £350m a year from sponsorship, media rights and the betting levy. And while tackling problem gambling is vitally important, we also should not forget the pleasure that betting brings to millions of people across the country.

We look forward to the publication of the Gambling white paper and hope it will prove to be an important milestone in the drive to raise standards further and promote safer gambling.

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