Jeremy Wright: The commitment by big gambling operators to support addicts is welcome, but there is still more to do
While millions of people gamble responsibly, for too many it can lead to dangerous levels of addiction, says Jeremy Wright
From backing their favourite football team to a flutter on the Grand National – or indeed the Conservative leadership contest – gambling remains an occasional, enjoyable bit of fun for most people.
However, while millions of people gamble responsibly, for too many it can lead to dangerous levels of addiction.
I have met those who have lost more than the UK’s annual average salary on credit cards during one night of gambling online, and parents who are now without a child as a result of gambling addiction.
That is why over the past few months Sports Minister Mims Davies and I have been in discussion with the gambling industry and colleagues from the House on what more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable.
I have been clear with the industry that I expect it to do much more to tackle gambling-related harm and to create a culture of responsible gambling through strong and meaningful commitments. I’m pleased that this they are now stepping up in this area.
Following a series of positive meetings with five of the industry’s biggest operators – Bet 365, GVC, Flutter (formerly Paddy Power Betfair), Sky Bet and William Hill – we have brokered an agreement that will see them increase their financial contributions towards support for problem gamblers tenfold, from 0.1% to 1% of their gambling yield over the next four years.
During that time, they will also spend at least £100m on treatment, complementing the expansion of specialist NHS gambling clinics to treat people with the most severe and complex problems.
This is a package of measures that will ensure the industry tackles problem gambling on many fronts. The five operators have agreed they will use emerging technology to keep gambling adverts away from people showing signs of problem gambling behaviour, increase responsible gambling messaging, and review their marketing.
They will also share more data to help protect problem gamblers from further harm.
This builds upon previous commitments to ban advertising on TV during live sport before 9pm, and fund a new, multi-million-pound responsible gambling advertising campaign, led by GambleAware. We have also seen the successful launch of Gamstop, the multi-operator self-exclusion scheme, which currently extends to over 90% of the market, and has had over 72,000 people sign up so far.
When I announced the measures in the House, several colleagues asked why the Government has not pursued increased contributions through a mandatory levy.
The answer is simple – these commitments will ensure significant, additional funds are made available quicker than through new laws. It is more efficient and less costly but most importantly will get help to those that need it from this year.
However, I have also been very clear that the government will look at other ways of funding support if the voluntary approach doesn’t prove effective.
I am pleased that five leading operators have taken action. I will now urge other operators to look at how they will match them.
'I am proud of our record in tackling problem gambling'
I am proud of our record in tackling problem gambling. We have delivered some unprecedented and far-reaching measures that will help the most vulnerable.
In particular, we have reduced the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 to £2 and worked with the industry to make preparations for this. We have also launched tighter age and identity checks for people who want to gamble online, and expanded national specialist support through the NHS Long Term Plan. Advertising guidance and sanctions have been toughened, and the new multimillion-pound Bet Regret advertising campaign is helping to spread the message about safer gambling.
The Gambling Commission is also carrying out a detailed investigation into the online casino sector which has seen multi-million-pound fines imposed on operators who have failed to prevent money laundering and keep consumers safe. In five cases, operating licences have been surrendered.
Significant progress has been made, but as the industry and consumer behaviour continues to evolve, there is still more to do. That is why we are looking at whether it is right that people should be able to gamble on credit cards, and the role high street banks can play by allowing customers to switch off the ability to make gambling payments.
In the meantime these measures will change lives for the better and contribute to our ongoing work to make gambling safer for everyone.
Jeremy Wright is Conservative MP for Kenilworth and Southam and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport