Laurence Robertson MP: Taking an evidence-based approach to betting will see increased growth across the UK
After a turbulent few weeks, in which we changed Prime Ministers and so very sadly lost Her Majesty The Queen, government is back in full swing, taking bold steps to tackle the big issues. It won’t be an easy ride and there is plenty for the new Prime Minister to tackle. Growing the economy by delivering The Growth Plan, staring down Russia over its illegal invasion of Ukraine and tackling the energy crisis are huge issues facing the nation.
With all that on the agenda, it’s obvious that reforms to betting and gaming will not be a priority, and nor should they be. But if the government takes an evidence-based approach to gambling reform, I believe that achieving growth across the country can be helped by that gambling sector. Because right now, that industry is delivering investment and growth in every town and city in the UK, which is what our re-formed government surely wishes to see.
This business-led, supply side growth is taking place on hard pressed High Streets, in tourism and hospitality, as well as in tech, where world-leading betting companies such as bet365, Flutter, Entain, 888 and Gamesys are unleashing reserves of talent across the nation, and not just in London.
I see the benefits of this investment in my own constituency, which is home to Cheltenham racecourse. Investment in sport by betting companies was hugely important during the pandemic and remains vital. Horseracing alone receives around £350m a year from betting companies – about 40% of its total income - with the English Football League receiving £40m, and snooker, darts and rugby league receiving more than £12.5m.
Across the board, the regulated betting and gaming sector supports 119,000 livelihoods, generates £7.7bn for the economy and raises £4.5bn in taxes. These investments are only possible because of the enduring popularity of betting. Every month some 22.5m adults in the UK buy a lottery ticket, place a bet in a casino, have a wager on any number of sports or play online games. This is an industry perfectly placed to play a leading role in the new Government’s flagship Growth Plan.
And even given all this activity, the rates of problem gambling in the UK remain among the lowest in Europe at 0.2 per cent of the adult population, according to the independent regulator the Gambling Commission. But this independently assessed evidence hasn’t encouraged the critics of gambling to take a more targeted approach.
This is the way forward: to protect vulnerable people, to protect freedoms, to boost the Exchequer and to fund sport. It is the Conservative way.
They want invasive, blanket affordability checks at a level that would spoil the fun for millions of people, even though no such checks are required on people who wish to buy alcohol, tobacco, fatty foods or countless products online. They also want to see ‘gambling kills’ style health warnings placed on betting products, an end to promotions like free bets, a new tax on the industry plus draconian bans on advertising.
Strangely, anti-gambling prohibitionists, as well as some well-meaning people, want these measures to be introduced despite any evidence that they are needed, or that they work. In fact, those countries which have brought in such measures have only succeeded in pushing customers onto the unregulated, unsupervised online gambling black market, which doesn’t, of course, provide funds for any sports nor any revenue for the Exchequer. Already, in the UK alone there are hundreds of thousands of people betting on black market sites and the amount bet is in the billions. Pushing more people that way, however unintentionally, would, therefore, expose individuals to greater risk and would starve the Exchequer and sports of much needed funds.
Nevertheless, none of this means there isn’t room for change. One problem gambler is one too many, and the sector’s champion, the Betting and Gaming Council, which I advise on a part-time basis, is pushing for a White Paper containing reforms which, while protecting people’s personal freedoms and backing jobs and businesses, will at the same time drive up safer gaming standards. They welcome enhanced, but targeted affordability checks for the most vulnerable and they want an industry ombudsman to deliver improved consumer redress. Since their creation, the BGC’s biggest members have taken a more targeted approach to advertising to protect youngsters, while increasing their voluntary contributions to charities tackling gambling harm by £100m between 2019 and 2023. So the industry is already on with it.
It’s all about balance. Our new Prime Minister has promised to deliver genuine solutions as she tackles the issues holding Britain back. How will she do it? There was a sentence in her remarks when she was confirmed as the Conservative leader which provides the answer.
She said, “I know that our beliefs resonate with the British people – our beliefs in freedom, in the ability to control your own life, in low taxes, in personal responsibility.” And she personally told me that, like me, she believes in the freedom of individuals to live their lives as they wish to live them, as long as they are not hurting or damaging other people.
This is one of the reasons why I backed Liz Truss to become Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister. Because in this philosophy lies a sensible future policy towards gambling: protect the vulnerable, using all the modern technology which is available, and at the same time allow millions of people to continue to enjoy harmless flutters. This is the way forward: to protect vulnerable people, to protect freedoms, to boost the Exchequer and to fund sport. It is the Conservative way.
Laurence Robertson is the Member of Parliament for Tewkesbury
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