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Problem Gambling - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:27 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:27 pm, 2nd July 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for DCMS earlier today in the other place:

“Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a Statement about today’s announcement on support for those affected by problem gambling. While we all want a healthy gambling industry that makes an important contribution to the economy, we also need one that does all it can to protect those who use it.

Problem gambling can devastate lives, families and communities. I have met users 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. Over recent months I have also met representatives from the gambling industry and colleagues from across the House to discuss what more needs to be done. We can all agree that it is best to prevent harm before it occurs, and to step in early where people are at risk. But we also need to offer the right support for those people who experience harm. We have already acted to reduce the minimum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals to £2, from £100. This has reduced the potential for large losses on FOBT machines and has reduced the risk of harm to players and wider communities. We have also tightened age and identity checks for online gambling websites, an important step to protect children and vulnerable people who may be at risk.

Today five of the biggest gambling companies have agreed a series of measures which will deliver real and meaningful progress on support for problem gamblers. This announcement has been welcomed by the Gambling Commission, GambleAware and Gamban. These are companies which, together, represent around half the British commercial gambling industry.

At the heart of this package is a very significant increase in their financial contribution to fund support and treatment. Last year voluntary contributions across the whole industry to problem gambling yielded less than £10 million. Now five operators—William Hill, Bet365, GVC, which owns Ladbrokes and Coral; Flutter, formerly known as Paddy Power Betfair; and Sky Betting & Gaming—have pledged that over the next four years they will increase tenfold the funding they give to treatment and support for problem gamblers. In this same period they have committed to spending £100 million pounds on treatment specifically. The companies will report publicly on progress with these commitments, alongside their annual assurance statements to the Gambling Commission.

Last week NHS England announced it is establishing up to 14 clinics for those with the most complex and severe gambling problems. This includes where gambling problems coexist with other mental health problems or childhood trauma. It has also been announced that the first NHS problem gambling clinic offering specific support for children is set to open. The funding announced today enables a huge boost for the other treatment services that complement specialist NHS clinics and will help us to place an increased focus on early intervention. I know that Members across the House have argued for a mandatory, statutory levy to procure funds for treatment and support of problem gambling. I understand the argument, but of course the House knows that legislating for this would take time to complete; in all likelihood more than a year. The proposal made this morning will deliver substantially increased support for problem gamblers this year.

It may also be said that receipts from a statutory levy are certain, and those from a voluntary approach are not. However, it is important to stress two things. First, these voluntary contributions must and will be transparent, including to the regulator, and if they are not made, we will know. Secondly, the Government reserve the right to pursue a mandatory route to funding if a voluntary one does not prove effective. This is a clear financial commitment from the industry to address the harms that can come from gambling, but this is not solely about spending money: this is a package of measures, spanning a number of different areas, to ensure we tackle problem gambling on all possible fronts.

First, a responsible gambling industry is one that works together to reduce harm and wants customers to be safe, whatever platform they use or however they choose to gamble. The companies already identify customers whose gambling suggests they may be at risk, and they take steps to protect them. Their licences require this, but they will go further. We have already seen the successful launch of GamStop, the multioperator self-exclusion scheme. I am pleased that companies have committed to building on this through greater sharing of data to prevent problem gamblers experiencing further harm.

Secondly, the five companies will use emerging technology to make sure their online advertising is used responsibly. Where technology exists that can identify a user showing problem gambling behaviours and target gambling adverts away from that person, they have committed to using it. More generally, the industry has already committed to a voluntary ban on advertising around live sport during the daytime, which will come into force next month.

Thirdly, operators have committed to giving greater prominence to services and campaigns that support those in need of help. They have pledged to increase the volume of their customer safer gambling messaging; to continue their support for the Bet Regret campaign, which is showing promising early results; and to review the tone and content of their marketing, advertising and sponsorship to ensure it is appropriate. These are welcome commitments and represent significant progress in terms of the support operators give for those impacted by problem gambling. However, as technology advances we need to be even more sophisticated in how we respond. The five companies which have proposed these measures today will be working closely with the Government, charities and regulators so that we can address any new or developing harms.

These are landmark measures and I commend the leadership of the five companies that have put them forward. They are proposals from some of the industry’s biggest companies and I believe it is reasonable for the biggest companies with the largest reach and the most resources to do more and show leadership. The industry as a whole needs to engage in tackling problem gambling, and we want other firms to look at what they can also do to step up.

I repeat: it will remain open to the Government to legislate if needed, so this is not the end of the conversation. We will keep working hard as a Government to make sure we protect users, whether online or in the high street.

There is still much more to do, but today’s announcement is a significant step forward. It means substantially more help for problem gamblers, more quickly than other paths we could take. We must and will hold the companies that have made these commitments to them, and we will expect the rest of the industry to match them. They will change lives for the better and contribute to the ongoing work we are doing to make gambling safer for everyone.

I commend this Statement to the House”.