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Gambling: Regulation

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 11 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will take steps to ensure that the United Kingdom is the world leader in tackling the problems caused by online and other gambling.

My Lords, from September 2007 the Gambling Act 2005 will introduce one of the world’s strictest regulatory regimes. Tough new provisions include a duty on operators to act in a socially responsible way. On 31 October last year, the Government hosted an international summit for more than 30 jurisdictions, and the process of establishing international standards is now under way.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. I refer him to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s 2003 position paper The Future Regulation of Remote Gambling, in which it expressed a wish,

“to see Britain become a world leader in the field of online gambling”.

First, have the Government monitored the consequences of online gambling? Solitary gambling—online gambling—can be as dangerous as solitary drinking. Have they monitored it in terms of stress, mental breakdown and gambling-induced poverty?

Secondly, what new action are the Government taking to assist those at risk? How much investment are they making to help those who fall victim to such gambling?

My Lords, on the second question, under encouragement from the Government the industry is contributing £3 million a year to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust to tackle the problems that the noble Lord identifies. Online gambling raises significant questions. We are concerned to ensure that as much of it as possible takes place within the United Kingdom jurisdiction, because the Gambling Act guarantees certain standards. Not all online gambling will take place on these shores, and that is why we propose to operate restrictions on any who break the standards we set, for instance in advertising in this country. As I have indicated, we are also taking international action to raise standards worldwide.

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the safeguards against the involvement of children and young people in gambling are adequate, particularly in preventing online gambling with the illicit use of credit?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate will recognise that protection for children was a central point of the Gambling Act 2005. We will ensure that the commission keeps a watchful eye on that. Where misdemeanours occur, those responsible for providing the opportunity will be dealt with appropriately. There is a problem with regard to online gambling. That is why we have undertaken to monitor regularly the level of gambling in this country. At present, the percentage of problem gamblers in this country is very low.

My Lords, the need to protect children and other problem gamblers has already been raised. Is the Minister aware that turnover in the gambling industry has already increased sevenfold in the five years up to 2005? In view of that frighteningly rising tide, what are the Government planning to do to fulfil that fundamental objective—not least in the face of Mike Atherton’s truism that the more gambling there is the more addiction follows?

My Lords, it was in anticipation of the growth of gambling that we introduced the Gambling Act. Up until then we were relying on hopelessly outdated 1968 legislation. We have produced gambling legislation which is fit for purpose to control an expanding industry. There is no doubt that an element of the increased disposable income which follows economic growth is expressed in gambling. But it is a very small minority of people in this country who condemn gambling outright and think that no one should gamble.

My Lords, it is partly the responsibility of the Gambling Commission. There will be three-yearly reports on the development of gambling. This will be much easier with regard to gambling operations conducted within the United Kingdom and operations that are considerably more overt than online gambling, which is private. We have already sought to establish standards which online gambling facilities need to follow to meet our requirements.

My Lords, in my compulsive gambling youth, bookmakers thought that socially responsible behaviour was to get me to bet as much as possible as often as possible. Has that changed?

My Lords, bookmakers still retain a residual enterprise function, but the industry recognises the benefit of effective regulation. The expansion of the industry requires such regulation, and all responsible gambling firms are part and parcel of the framework I have described.

My Lords, the Gambling Act, rightly, will regulate online gambling but I fully understand the concerns of my noble friend Lord Roberts, particularly in the light of the “Panorama” programme shown in November, which demonstrated that some 5.8 million people a month visited online gambling sites. The remarks of Professor Jim Orford that the Government are being naive and playing dice with people’s health over their plans to liberalise gambling laws also give cause for concern. We fully supported the Bill when it went through the House. What are the Government doing to establish proper research and monitoring of the situation, particularly in the use of credit cards, where open credit can be an invitation to addiction?

My Lords, we were grateful for all-party support for the Gambling Act, which introduces the controls that I have identified. We are also monitoring developments in gambling to meet the anxieties that the noble Lord has expressed.