A group of 50 MPs has called for a ban on all gambling advertising and a cut to £2 in the maximum stake allowed online after a year-long inquiry into gambling-related addiction in the UK.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm said in a report published on Tuesday that gambling regulation in the UK needed a “complete overhaul” and that Covid-19 had only exacerbated the need for better protection of those vulnerable to problem gambling behaviour.
“We cannot continue with the current lack of regulation for the online industry. We have an industry that is profiteering from vulnerable people gambling more than they can afford,” said Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader and vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm.
It is the first time that the group has publicly called for a ban on all gambling advertising as well as an overhaul of the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission, which the MPs described as “not fit for purpose”.
“These recommendations are in line with the public sentiment at the moment and any policy debate should be contextualised by where the public centre of gravity is. There is a strong feeling that the Gambling Act needs to be reviewed in its entirety,” said Matt Zarb Cousin, who runs the campaign group Clean Up Gambling, referring to the 2005 legislation that regulates the industry.
During the coronavirus lockdown campaigners and health experts have been concerned that vulnerable gamblers have increased the amount of time they spend gambling online and spent more money on stakes.
YouGov data published in June showed that the overall number of consumers gambling had marginally decreased, in part because of a lack of live sport. But among regular gamblers the number of bets placed and the time spent on online products such as casino and slot games had increased.
“A significant anti-gambling lobby believes punitive and mandatory restrictions — notably clamping down on online stake thresholds — will help problem gamblers. I don’t doubt for one minute their genuine desire to help solve the problem, but such measures would actually only serve to exacerbate the issue,” wrote Kenny Alexander, chief executive of Ladbrokes Coral owner GVC, in a blog post published on Monday. He said a clampdown in online stakes would force players to bet on unregulated offshore websites.
Brigid Simmonds, who chairs the Betting and Gaming Council, which represents 90 per cent of the industry, said that during the lockdown the industry had increased the number of interventions it made to stop problematic gambling and that it was working on issues such as sports sponsorship and game design to decrease gambling harm.
The Gambling Commission said: “We are committed to making gambling safer and reducing gambling harm. We disagree with the APPG’s assertion that we are ‘not fit for purpose’.”
The government promised a review of the Gambling Act in its election manifesto last year but has yet to confirm when it will go ahead.