'Whistle to whistle' – Labour calls time on flawed gambling regulation and abusive practices

Posted On: 
21st September 2018

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling reacts to policy announcements from Labour including a potential ban on gambling advertisements during live sporting events.

Credit: 
PA

Labour’s rigorous consultation on gambling led by Tom Watson produced a raft of new policies that received widespread support. The top line proposal – a “whistle to whistle” ban on gambling ads during live sporting events – gained the approval of former England captain Tony Adams, and was the subject of a debate on the BBC’s Politics Live, which Fairer Gambling spokesperson Matt Zarb-Cousin appeared on.

Writing in The Mirror and appearing on Sky News, Tom Watson described gambling addiction as “Britain’s hidden epidemic”, and pledged to make the levy on gambling industry profits mandatory, and increase it from 0.1% to 1%, yielding £140 million a year for research and treatment. Also included in Labour’s proposals, summarised by the shadow minister for gambling Rosena Allin-Khan, were a ban on credit card betting and giving gambling addicts the power to block gambling transactions via their bank. Everything proposed by Labour could be implemented with amendments to the current legislative and regulatory framework.

But crucially, Labour also committed to “a new gambling act for the digital age, with stronger emphasis on harm prevention” – a complete overhaul of the current laws governing gambling. The 2005 Gambling Act was a rush job, omitting provisions to regulate online gambling, which was only brought under the remit of the British Gambling Commission when the Remote Gambling Act was passed in 2014 as an amendment to the 2005 Act.

So while mistakes such as allowing a pre-watershed exemption for gambling adverts during live sporting events can be rectified without the need for new legislation, it’s very welcome that Labour recognise that the current licensing objectives and regulatory regime need strengthening if we are to keep pace with a sector that is constantly evolving. Loot boxes are an example of a form of gambling that is as yet unregulated, and not licensed as gambling, despite providing platforms within video-games to buy upgrades that can be won, lost, traded and also be cashed out for real money.

Labour’s commitment to implementing the £2 cap on FOBTs is also welcome. FOBT suppliers SG Gaming and Inspired appeared before the APPG on FOBTs, and were forced to admit that games in excess of £2 could be removed immediately if that is what government decided. The FOBT suppliers – who disclosed that they benefit from a profit share agreement with the bookmakers – want to delay preparations for reducing the stake to £2 until the Statutory Instrument (SI) that amends the maximum stake on FOBTs is tabled, and the implementation date is agreed. But given they already know that the stake will be reduced to £2, there is no excuse for not commencing preparation now, if that is even necessary. 

The Association of British Bookmakers, of which SG is an associate member, met with Treasury officials in April, just before the stake reduction announcement in May. But the Treasury should not be swayed by vested interests and should instead listen to academics such as the CEBR, who substantiated at the APPG that a £2 cap would bolster overall tax revenue.

If the Treasury wants to increase gambling tax revenue, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling is in complete agreement that the Remote Gambling Tax Duty at Point of Consumption (PoC) should be increased from 15%. This is an opportunity to apply a rational increase to a minimum of 25%, with scope for higher rates for the most harmful activities of up to 50%.

The new annual report into problem gambling from the Health Survey is very welcome, and provides insight into which activities are most harmful. FOBTs had the highest rate of problem gamblers at 13.7%, an increase from 11.5% in 2015. FOBTs and slot-dominated online gambling are engaged in by persons with lower mental health wellbeing, who exhibit close to double the extent of engagement in all gambling when compared to persons not in that group.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling advocates that the PoC on slot and casino games should be increased to 50%, and the maximum stakes on these games should be reduced, either during the next review of stakes and prizes, or in a new Gambling Act.