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We need reforms to make gambling safer during the coronavirus lockdown and beyond

We need reforms to make gambling safer during the coronavirus lockdown and beyond

Families from the Big Step, Gambling with Lives | GwL

Charles Ritchie, Co-founder and Co-chair | Gambling With Lives

4 min read Partner content

Gambling with Lives are calling for the introduction of effective policies to make gambling safer through the coronavirus crisis and beyond.

All of our lives have changed so much in the last two months, but we know online gambling will still continue to wreak its havoc. Back in February, our charity Gambling with Lives (GwL) had arguably its most hectic few weeks ever. The frenetic period started on the 18th February, when we hosted an event in Stormont to coincide with the consultation on reform of gambling legislation in Northern Ireland.

The event was attended by dozens of politicians from across the spectrum and representatives of key health, community, business and sporting organisations. There was wonderful engagement and a real feeling of energy to work collaboratively to advance reforms that will make gambling safer.

The following week saw GwL families give evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on its inquiry into the Social and Economic Impact of Gambling. Several GwL families who have lost loved ones to suicide also met informally with Lords Committee members to let them know the true horror of what gambling can do to normal, bright, happy young people from loving families.

Members of two of the founding families – Liz and Charles Ritchie, and Jo Holloway – then gave formal evidence to the inquiry. Members of the Committee were left in no doubt that gambling kills: that some products are too dangerous to be permitted, and that the industry has proved that it is incapable of regulating itself. Online gambling operators and their representatives must acknowledge the grotesque level of harm associated with some of their products, and that it’s only through effective regulation applied uniformly across the sector that this harm can be reduced.

The following day, those taking part in “The Big Step” arrived in Westminster having completed their 100 mile sponsored trek around London, via the 6 London football clubs with gambling shirt sponsors. GwL then delivered a joint letter to 10 Downing Street calling on the government to ban all gambling advertising and sponsorship in football.

That evening GwL hosted a reception in the House of Commons, which was attended by over 100 people including 30 MPs and Peers, together with recovering gambling addicts turned campaigners, gambling researchers, treatment providers, regulators and other key organisations. We were delighted that Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock was able to address the meeting – arriving hot foot from chairing a COBRA meeting. His personal commitment to making change to gambling regulation and treatment was clear.

The next day several GwL families recorded our next film entitled “Dealing with Gambling Deaths”. It was a tough day, but will contain some important messages for the inevitable future families who will have to confront the deaths of loved ones killed by gambling.

And then Covid-19 struck. We’re adapting to online meetings and campaigning but we know that this is a really dangerous time for people with gambling disorder or who might be at the start of that fateful journey into addiction – drawn into online slots and casino games, or gambling on virtual sports.

GwL is asking the Gambling Commission, GambleAware and the Betting and Gaming Council not to stand in the way of introducing effective policies. The early signs are not good with most messaging still being directed at individual gamblers and weak industry initiatives. GwL is calling for the following measures to be introduced:

  • End all gambling advertising during lockdown
  • Stop all “free” bets, spins and bonus offers to attract people online
  • Impose a minimum 48 hour “cooling off” period for those signing up to a site
  • Enforce strong affordability and “sources of wealth” checks
  • Impose daily and weekly deposit limits

All of this needs to be backed by the threat of licence removals by the Gambling Commission. This is a time for the country to come together, to help each other through a difficult period. It won’t bode well for operators in the government’s eventual promised gambling review if the industry were to profit excessively from the current circumstances.

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