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Covid-19: Vulnerable Online Gamblers

Volume 675: debated on Monday 27 April 2020

What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the gambling industry on protection of vulnerable online gamblers during the covid-19 outbreak. (901870)

What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the gambling industry on protection of vulnerable online gamblers during the covid-19 outbreak. (901880)

I have had calls with the Betting and Gaming Council and gambling businesses, including five of the largest online operators. On 20 April, I wrote to the gambling companies urging faster progress on new player protection measures, data protection provisions and safer gambling messaging, and I understand that the industry made an announcement on advertising today.

I will be having further calls this week and next and will continue to make it clear to the sector that it must obey player protection rules and be particularly responsible at this challenging time. I am monitoring the situation closely, as is the Gambling Commission. Any operator exploiting the current situation or vulnerable consumers will be held to account.

It is welcome news about the advertising, but a high number of people have withdrawn from the self-exclusion scheme—[Inaudible.] What actions are being taken to monitor this and how will people be protected who have previously identified that they have a gambling problem but who have recommenced gambling during this period?

I assure the hon. Lady that I, the Department, the Gambling Commission and the gambling industry take these concerns very seriously. She will be aware that we have extended the comprehensive online self-exclusion scheme, GAMSTOP, and taken additional measures, including that made on credit cards just this month. We are moving forward with both non-legislative and legislative programmes.

Last year, the Government announced that they had launched a consultation on the national lottery age limit, which allows 16-year-olds to buy scratch cards and gamble online. Did the Government consult on this and will they introduce national lottery regulations in line with those on all other UK gambling businesses, to protect young people from gambling-related harm?

Estimates indicate that as many as 200,000 people in Scotland are problem gamblers. Last week, a Survation poll showed an apparent fall in part-time gambling as a result of the coronavirus lock-in, perhaps masking more intense betting among problem gamblers. In the absence of sporting fixtures, many are turning to riskier products, such as online casino games—advertising for these has been ramped up by betting companies during lockdown, which of course is shameful. Will the Minister call on gambling companies to provide clear and prominent covid-19 addiction warnings on betting site pages and will he impose an ongoing suspension on gambling advertising beyond the end of the current lockdown period?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments. Of course, we are all aware that problem gambling can have a devastating impact on those affected and their families. We take the issue very seriously indeed. Although I welcome the current movements from the industry—it has come up with plans—we have also asked it to offer shared data in a more meaningful manner, so that we can make educated choices. We have also announced a review of the Gambling Act 2005 and will in due course make more announcements about the scope of that review for potentially more comprehensive measures.