Ronnie Cowan MP: Action on FOBTs is one measure in addressing gambling related harm
SNP MP Ronnie Cowan welcomes today's DCMS announcement and writes that 'the issue of gambling related harm was too great for any Government department to block a reduction on the unit stake on FOBTs to £2'.
Today, the UK Government finally announced its findings to the Consultation on proposals for changes to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures. A consultation which launched back in October 2017, it has taken the government over 6 months to respond and highlight their actions on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
However, I welcome the announcement by the UK Government to reduce the maximum unit stake on FOBTs to £2 per spin. This is something I have strongly campaigned for in my role as vice-chair of the All-party parliamentary group on FOBTs alongside other MP’s such as Carolyn Harris and Iain Duncan Smith. I would like to put on record my praise for the Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch MP for her action on this issue and her acknowledgment of the harm these machines can do.
I have heard numerous testimonies and stories from individuals, who lives have been ruined by these machines. This is why Carolyn Harris MP (Chair of the APPG on FOBTS) Iain Duncan Smith MP and I wrote numerous letters to the UK Government to highlight our concerns and urge the Government to reduce the maximum unit stake on FOBTs to £2. The issue of gambling related harm was too great for any Government department to block a reduction on the unit stake on FOBTs to £2. Politicians from across the chamber recognise this and thankfully the Government now too.
The wider issue of gambling related harm has rightly received more coverage as we learn the true extent of problem gambling. One of the emerging challenges I believe, and which requires further action, is the link between young people and gambling. Over half a million children are gambling per week and according to Gambling Commission statistics, for 2017, 0.9% of 11-16 year olds are problem gamblers, 1.3% are ‘at-risk’ gamblers and 15.5% are non-problem gamblers. These are startling figures and demonstrates the problem we face. The advances in technology mean young people are able to use smartphones to download betting apps and open accounts with little verification checks. Alongside this, it’s clear that bookmakers have been targeting their online advertising, using browser history and cookies, at young people. A welcome step in addressing these concerns was during the two day GambleAware conference, which took place in December 2017, and focused on young people and gambling. The conference highlighted how the internet has become a new way for young people to gamble, as access is more readily available and the appeal, through loot box games, is increasing. I believe an important factor in addressing gambling related harm in young people is to educate parents of the dangers of problem gambling and how easy it is for their children to access gambling. As was mentioned at the conference, problem gambling is a public health concern. This is why I welcome the work being undertaken in collaboration between GambleAware and the Royal Society for Public Health on young people and gambling.
Also, another area which I believe will assist in promoting social responsibility and safeguarding vulnerable groups is for the introduction of a compulsory levy for bookmakers to fund GambleAware and their activities to tackle gambling related harm. Currently, bookmakers contribute just 0.01% of their profits to support research into gambling related harm, which is an outrage and highlights their mind-set when it comes to putting profits before people. I believe they are doing a complete disservice to punters and reneging on their duty to ensure responsible gambling and also addressing gambling related harm. My views are somewhat echoed by the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Tracey Crouch MP, who is on record as saying “gambling operators should step up on funding for research, education and treatment. If not, government will consider other options, including introducing a mandatory levy on gambling operators. We believe this approach is the necessary action required to protect people and wider communities, whilst also making sure those experiencing harm receive the help they need.” This is something which I fully support.
Gambling related harm is an issue which rightly continues to receive more attention and it’s vital the Government continue to listen to the many people and organisations who are highlighting how FOBTs, in particular, are having a detrimental effect on society. It’s time further action on the areas I’ve outlined above are taken to help both those who have been affected by gambling and to also prevent others who may become problem gamblers.
Ronnie Cowan is the SNP MP for Inverclyde