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Gambling reform will be crucial to levelling up deprived communities

Gambling reform will be crucial to levelling up deprived communities


Bishop of St Albans

3 min read

The government must be wise to the fact that breaking the cycle of deprivation involves more than just jobs and economic growth

With the worst of the Covid pandemic behind us, levelling up has finally taken centre stage as the government’s flagship programme for revitalising the country. Public expectations are high and the government must not confuse levelling up with simply delivering economic growth – particularly if that growth acts to the detriment of deprived communities.

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) recently attempted to stake its claim as an industry leading the way in levelling up. Its report, published in partnership with the Purpose Business Coalition, promised 15,000 tech jobs in the next five years and highlighted the existing tax contribution of gambling operators.

Whilst the headline figures presented by the BGC try to present an industry at the forefront of economic growth, they mask the underlying societal costs of light-touch gambling regulations. The timing of the BGC’s report comes at a crucial point as parliamentarians await the publication of the government’s review into the 2005 Gambling Act, and could reasonably be viewed as representing an economic case to stave off gambling reform.

Betting shops, far from levelling up, have been proven to syphon money from those who can least afford it

The government, however, ought to be wise to the fact that levelling up is about more than jobs and economic growth. It is also about helping underperforming communities break out of the cycles of deprivation that have been inflicted upon them – something that gambling reform can assist with.

The BGC’s report argued that betting shops provide a much-needed boost to the high street. Whilst gambling operators may have the capital to afford high street business rates, that does not mean they are welcome. According to a 2018 YouGov Poll, 73 per cent of people would exclude gambling venues from their ideal high street. Furthermore betting shops, far from levelling up, have been proven to syphon money from those who can least afford it. A study from Bristol University titled “The geography of gambling premises in Britain” found that 21% of gambling outlets were concentrated in the poorest decile of the UK.

There is strong evidence to demonstrate that those in deprived communities are more prone to suffer from gambling related harm, and that the majority of the industries’ revenue comes from those who are already or at-risk of suffering gambling-related harm. The CEO of Gamble Aware, Zoe Osmond, echoed these sentiments when she recently referenced the “the growing body of evidence showing that harms from gambling are falling disproportionately on the most deprived communities”, before going on to claim that this would be exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis. In 2021, Oxford University’s Dr Naomi Muggleton even found that high levels of gambling were associated with a 37% increase in mortality along with other poor life outcomes, something that the government should heed if it is to meet its levelling up goal of closing life outcome inequalities.

The Treasury should also embrace the positive economic and financial effects that gambling reform offers. NERA Economic Consulting’s “Economic Assessment of Selected House of Lords Gambling Reforms” found that reform measures could help the economy to the tune of 30,000 new jobs and £400m in additional employee earnings as revenue is diverted to more labour-intensive industries – with exchequer revenue overall unaffected. Furthermore, a mandatory smart levy on gross gambling yield could contribute £130m a year to the NHS.

With no discernible economic consequences, and innumerable social and economic positives, the government should embrace comprehensive gambling reform as a beneficial addition to its strategy to help level up disadvantaged communities.

Bishop of St Albans is a non-affiliated peer

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