Gambling: Sport

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 11 October 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench 2:52, 11 October 2007

My Lords, I shall draw attention to the role played by the organisation Business in Sport and Leisure, or BISL, in promoting the commitment of the gambling industry to corporate social responsibility. BISL represents more than 100 private sector companies, including those from all major sectors of the gambling industry. I should like to see the Gambling Commission encourage BISL to seek further improvements in the communication and co-operation between betting companies and sports bodies, in the interests of integrity and of consumer confidence.

The role played by BISL is similar to the Portman Group's in relation to the drinks industry. At the Portman Group, I helped to develop mechanisms for effective self-regulation and educational tools to tackle problem drinking. Some of those devices are now being used as models for similar initiatives in the gambling industry.

I should declare two other interests. I sit on the Advertising Standards Authority, which from September this year has responsibility for regulating gambling advertising on television for the first time. My personal interest in sport—although I am aware that some might regard this as a dark confession rather than a declaration of interest—is that I am a lifelong supporter and season ticket holder of Fulham Football Club.

Behind this debate is the genuine worry that the relatively new form of gambling, betting exchanges, may compromise the integrity of sport by inviting corrupt practices. This is self-evidently in the interests of neither the gambling industry nor the sports bodies, but innovation in any sector will often expose gaps in the regulatory framework. The invention of so-called alcopops in 1995 did exactly that in the drinks industry. Existing legislation and codes of practice on advertising and retailing did not address the new and particular problem of certain alcopops, which was that their naming and packaging were irresponsible by appealing to children. So a new code was devised to tackle this new dimension of marketing.

In the same way, betting exchanges have opened up new territory which must be patrolled and policed. The question is how and by whom? The answers depend first on assessing the extent of the problem. Warning bells were clearly sounded in the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. More recently, the Gambling Prevalence Survey revealed that although the overall level of problem gambling has remained low at 0.6 per cent of the whole population, for the 1 per cent of the population who participate in betting exchanges that figure rises to 9.8 per cent. But evidence submitted to the Gambling Commission's consultation on integrity in sports betting suggests that the incidence of corrupt practice is very small. So there is certainly a need for educational initiatives on problem gambling—and this is one facet of how the relationship between sports and betting can give rise to a loss of integrity, by tainting the image of both with the association of harm and dependence. The industry's leading companies pay a voluntary levy to fund the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, but there is plenty of scope for more companies to contribute, which should be a priority for the betting exchanges in particular.

The need for centrally-funded action to address the facet of integrity concerned with corruption is less obvious. The industry is already obliged under the new statutory code to share information about any unusual betting activity which should trigger an investigation within the sport involved. The question of cost has been raised, predictably, with the sports bodies looking to the industry to provide funding, perhaps through another levy. It seems to me, however, that this would be a step too far in being proactive, and that the right note to strike is to concentrate on sport and industry continuing to share information as required by the code, with individual sports governing bodies taking responsibility for following up in the right way for them.

The recent policy announcement by the Gambling Commission judged the situation fairly and accurately. It is more important to have consistency in the principles involved in investigating and rooting out corruption than to have an artificial consistency of process or a uniform funding arrangement. Heavy-handed intervention by a government agency would be disproportionate. If the Gambling Commission, the Government and ultimately the public are to be content for self-regulation to prevail, then the basic principles behind the process must be transparency, independence of decision-making and accountability, backed up with realistic sanctions if malpractice is uncovered. The expertise of bodies such as BISL and the Central Council for Physical Recreation could be drawn on to help. The BISL has already developed a training standard which Gambling Commission inspectors use as the basis for their work. And the CCPR is commissioning more detailed research on the scale and nature of sports betting which should help to shape evidence-based measures in future.

This debate has been framed in terms of possible loss of integrity to sport. I would suggest that growth or innovation in betting exchanges and betting companies would stand just as much chance of provoking loss of integrity to the industry unless it rigorously observes the high standards in the voluntary code brokered by BISL and the statutory code which forms part of the new licensing regime. Enlightened self-interest means staying a step ahead of any problems associated with its products—and this is what the industry must do if it wants to retain its commercial freedoms and consent to self-regulation.