Rates of problem gambling are falling, but on the BGC's second anniversary, our commitment to safer gambling is stronger than ever
It’s entirely fitting that the Betting and Gaming Council’s second anniversary should fall during this year’s Safer Gambling Week.
When the BGC was established on November 6, 2019, our mission was clear: to drive up standards within the regulated betting and gaming industry and promote safer gambling. This was not just about bringing the industry together. It was about the industry getting its act together.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence, therefore, that new figures released by the Gambling Commission last month showed a significant fall in the rate of problem gambling. According to the regulator, the rate is now 0.3 per cent, compared to 0.6 per cent at the end of September last year, that’s equivalent to a fall from 340,000 problem gamblers to 170,000 problem gamblers. What’s more, those classed as being at moderate risk of harm also fell significantly, from 1.2 per cent to 0.7 per cent, over the same period.
The Government has rightly said that the Gambling Review should be ‘evidence-led’ and this is clear evidence that all of the work we are doing in this area is starting to bear fruit.
I want to be clear: this is not some George W Bush-style premature declaration of ‘Mission Accomplished’. We know there is much more work for us to do. One problem gambler is one too many. We have achieved an awful lot over the past two years and there is an awful lot more to do.
It was significant that our opponents in the anti-gambling lobby refused to acknowledge the fall in the rate of problem gambling. They can’t even support Safer Gambling Week. The truth is they don’t want to see safer gambling, they just want to see less of it. It’s the prohibitionist’s default position of “banning stuff”. Thankfully, it’s not a view shared by the Government, the regulator or the vast majority of cross-party parliamentarians who came out to support Safer Gambling Week.
Safer Gambling Week is important because it encourages more of the millions of people who enjoy a bet to use safer gambling tools like deposit limits - something that around two million customers now choose to use - as well as time outs and keeping an eye on your spend. But Safer Gambling Week is also a vital opportunity to signpost the help that is out there to the minority of people who sadly do get into a problem with their gambling.
In an article on this website, one anti-gambling campaigner said they were opposed to Safer Gambling Week because “there is no credible evidence that safer gambling messages reduce gambling”. This spectacularly misses the point of what Safer Gambling Week – and the wider safer gambling agenda – is all about. It’s not about telling people not to gamble – an activity enjoyed by 30 million people in the UK – it’s about giving them the information and the tools that they need to stay safe and in control of their betting.
Safer Gambling Week is also a vital opportunity to signpost the help that is out there to the minority of people who sadly do get into a problem with their gambling.
Over the past 12 months, our commitment to higher standards has been further demonstrated by a range of initiatives, including new rules aimed at preventing football clubs from using their official social media accounts to promote gambling offers.
20 per cent of all our broadcast advertising is now safer gambling messages. The success of the whistle to whistle ban on TV betting commercials during live sport before the 9pm watershed – introduced by our members in 2019 - was further underlined when ITV revealed that the number of betting ads they broadcast during Euro 2020 had fallen by half compared to the 2018 World Cup.
We also called on the Government to set up a Gambling Ombudsman to deal with customer complaints – yet more evidence of our commitment to ever higher standards within the regulated industry. And just last month, we were proud to launch ‘Take Time To Think’, our new multi-million pound campaign urging customers to make use of the range of safer gambling tools offered by our members.
Meanwhile, two major reports out earlier this year demonstrated what’s at stake as we eagerly await the publication of the Government’s white paper on the Gambling Review.
A study by PwC in February revealed that the number of British punters using the unsafe, unregulated black market online to place bets had more than doubled from 210,000 to 460,000, with the amount of money staked jumping from £1.4bn to £2.8bn. These unlicensed but sadly all too available online sites offer none of the safer gambling measures which are required from BGC members. Any future changes in regulation, however well intended or naive, which force customers to drift off to the black market should be avoided at all costs.
In March, a report by EY once again highlighted the enormous economic contribution made by BGC members, who support 119,000 jobs, generate £4.5bn in tax and contribute £7.7bn to the economy in gross value added. And in September, as part of our support for the Government’s Plan For Jobs, we pledged to create 5,000 apprenticeships by 2025.
So as we celebrate our second anniversary, we can look back with some satisfaction at another 12 months of higher standards and major progress in safer gambling. But far from resting on our laurels, not least with the Government’s review of Gambling in full swing, we have a series of ambitious plans aimed at ensuring that the year ahead is even better
Michael Dugher is CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council and a former Shadow Secretary of State for DCMS
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