What is the Gambling Commission’s excuse for such a lax regulatory regime for ten years?
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling writes about the campaign to reduce stakes on fixed odds betting terminals and calls on the Gambling Commission to step up and provide all relevant information to DCMS as it conducts an inquiry into these machines.
The Gambling Commission recently published a new “enforcement strategy” promising “robust and effective action when gambling companies don’t meet their obligations”. New policies include higher penalties for breaches of licence, and the prospect of licence review for persistent breaches. The Campaign has long advocated this approach to the Gambling Commission, only to be told that this is not the most effective method of regulation.
The Campaign once attended a meeting with Matthew Hill, a former Director of the Gambling Commission, and was told that handing out fines and reviewing licences is not as productive as working with the operators, as “they all want to do the right thing”. Sometimes they fall short, but that’s because “they just need some assistance”. This naïve and frankly delusional perception of gambling companies has informed gambling regulation in the UK for the past ten years, to the detriment of the public.
The Gambling Commission’s planned new approach was briefed to the Guardian back in January, meaning this has taken six months to finally be enacted. A truly glacial pace considering it has taken ten years since the formation of the regulator to work out that its job is to regulate rather than promote the growth of the gambling sector, as Matthew Hill once said.
If the Gambling Commission has truly departed from that ideology, then it will now commit itself to greater levels of transparency of industry data. The BBC’s recent Broken drama, told the tragic story of a FOBT addict who committed suicide, an act which led to the smashing of machines in retaliation. While this was a fictional account, a Gambling Commission Director revealed to the Campaign that one in six FOBTs are smashed up every year, and violence against machines is not just evidence of crime associated with gambling but also an indicator of gambling related harm. When the Campaign followed up with the Gambling Commission requesting the full data on how many FOBTs were smashed up, we were told it did not exist.
If the Gambling Commission wants to put the protection of the public from harmful gambling products over ensuring the growth of the gambling industry, then it will advise the Government to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs to £2 a spin. The Government is now planning to respond to its consultation in October, and the Gambling Commission is due to give its advice around the same time. Again, moving at a glacial pace.
It is not just gambling related harm that is associated with FOBTs, but also crime and money laundering. In January, the Gambling Commission Chief Executive Sarah Harrison warned gambling firms to expect tougher sanctions to ensure they were not used for money laundering. She said the Gambling Commission had uncovered “a lack of curiosity, and at worst, a leadership culture which puts commercial gain over compliance”.
It is precisely this culture which led to betting operators lobbying against their inclusion in a new money laundering directive, which would have simply required those betting more than £1500 in a day to identify themselves. While the Gambling Commission has consistently identified FOBTs as having an inherently high money laundering risk, the Treasury decided to exempt betting shops from the directive. It’s time for all government departments to start putting the protection of the public ahead of the protection of gambling operator profits.