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Problem Gambling - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:35 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Rural Economy Committee 3:35 pm, 2nd July 2019

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am a member of your Lordships’ Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry Committee.

It is, however, my membership of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm that has led me to meet the parents of a number of children who have committed suicide because of gambling. It has given me the opportunity to meet people with mental health problems who have done everything they can to exclude themselves from gambling websites but are still being bombarded with gambling advertisements and free bet offers. I have also met people who have lost thousands of pounds in a very short time because they have been using multiple credit cards.

For far too long, the gambling industry has failed to take responsibility for the harm that it is causing not only to individuals but families and communities. As the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, pointed out, far too many of the gambling companies are failing to contribute even the 0.1% of the gross gambling yield to the voluntary levy for research, education and treatment. This Statement is of course welcome. The commitment by the so-called “big five” is welcome and I congratulate all, in all parts of the House and elsewhere, including Ministers, who have managed to shame some—but not all—of the gambling companies into taking this action.

An increase from £10 million to £60 million for research, education and treatment is of course welcome, but we should put it into context. Just some of the £60 million will be used to help the approximately 430,000 people, including children, with gambling problems, when we know that only 2% of them are getting any form of treatment. That £60 million should be compared with the £40 billion annual turnover of the gambling companies, the nearly £1 billion of government cuts to our public health budget and the annual salary of the boss of just one gambling company: today we are welcoming £60 million, while Denise Coates, the head of Bet365, earned £265 million last year.

The £60 million is welcome but, as the Secretary of State admits, there is much more to be done, and we need to ensure that this is not a cynical ploy by the gambling companies to prevent the Government introducing further regulation. The Secretary of State says that he is not yet minded to introduce a compulsory levy. If we do not have one, how will the many companies that are not party to this deal, and which do not make an adequate contribution, do so? Surely the way forward is a compulsory levy.

Further, what more does the Minister believe needs to be done to prevent problem gambling in the first instance? Does he agree, for example, that we need to do more to ensure that individuals can afford to gamble at a particular level, and that we should ban the use of credit cards for gambling? Does he agree that we need a code of practice for advertising? The industry says that it is keen to have one but has so far failed to come up with the goods. What will the Government do to make sure that we have one?

Should we not also have a system of redress for individuals? I am sure the Minister is aware that, if an individual has a problem whereby, for example, they have self-excluded but are still bombarded with advertisements and therefore lose more money because they are tempted, they can go to the Gambling Commission and report it. The commission will take evidence from them and other such individuals—it may take action against the gambling company or even fine it, as has happened in the past—but there is no redress for the individual because the commission does not act as an ombudsman. At present, all someone can do is go to the gambling company and seek redress or take expensive legal action. Does the Minister agree that we need a proper redress scheme? Today’s Statement is a small step, but it is certainly not a giant leap.