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Sat, 23 January 2021

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By Lord Bird and Simon Fell MP
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The review must make radical changes to protect people from the harms of gambling

The review must make radical changes to protect people from the harms of gambling

The gambling industry and its profits have grown exponentially extracting most of their money from those who are most addicted, writes Iain Duncan Smith MP. | PA Images

4 min read

Government must ban so-called VIP schemes and get rid of the Gambling Commission altogether. Now is the time to make bold moves and urgently prevent any more devastation to peoples’ lives.

The government has made the right decision to raise the minimum age for participation in the National Lottery to 18. There is the beginning of a real sea change in our attitude towards gambling abuses – but there is still a long way to go to protect the vulnerable, and often addicted, from the harms of gambling.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Gambling Related Harm has been exemplary in its truly cross-party efforts to drive change in this area. Over the last few years, we have collected vast amounts of evidence and the chair, Carolyn Harris, routinely puts the gambling lobby through their paces. We have been calling for reform of our gambling laws for many years and so I very much welcome the launch of the long-awaited gambling review published this week.

I believe the evidence the APPG have taken should be part of the government’s inquiry because we have heard, first hand, countless stories of the harms driven by this rampant industry. Young lives have been ruined by addiction, leaving devastation on families when mostly young men, with their whole lives ahead of them, take their own lives.

The gambling industry must be made to understand the extent of the responsibilities it holds in order that the public can be better served

There are at least 430,000 so-called problem gamblers in this country and there could well be many more, some estimate this figure is as high as 2 million. The number of 11 to 16-year-old problem gamblers has just increased from 55,000 to 62,000.

At the same time the gambling industry and its profits have grown exponentially extracting most of their money from those who are most addicted. 60 percent of the profits are coming from just 5 percent of gamblers — those likely to be experiencing harm.

I hope the government will use this review to deal with the most pernicious aspects of gambling, such as so-called VIP schemes which deliberately force gamblers into high levels of debt. It is my view that these should be banned out right.

The government should also use this opportunity to not only review the powers of the Gambling Commission, but to be rid of it altogether and instead institute a regulatory body that independently monitors the industry. Now is the time to make bold moves, to make sure we get proper control and that the abuses and the addiction end.

Action is also needed for a statutory smart levy to fund research, education and treatment and a statutory duty of care, the introduction of a gambling ombudsman and a stake and spend limits online as in land-based venues.

Our televisions are bombarded with gambling advertising and children are exposed to gambling on screens, football shirts and even in video games with the evidence suggesting that this normalises gambling in young minds. This must stop.

In the past when government have proposed change, the huge weight of the gambling industry has brought to bear on their plans and the government have backed down from making the bold changes that are needed. We saw this over the debacle of reforming fixed odds betting terminals and already the industry lobbying machine is in action to limit the impact of this review.

This time the government must be clear: the industry is in dire need of a reset. The gambling industry must be made to understand the extent of the responsibilities it holds in order that the public can be better served.

Gambling addiction is a public health crisis of our time. The government must not hold back from much needed and radical reform and it must act quickly to prevent any more devastation to peoples’ lives.

 

Iain Duncan Smith is the Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green.

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