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Gaming Machines

Volume 783: debated on Tuesday 12 September 2017

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with their Review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures.

My Lords, the review generated a lot of interest from the general public, as well as from a variety of interest groups, local authorities, trade bodies and industry. As the Minister for Sport and Civil Society made clear in the other place before the Recess, any announcement will not be made until October at the earliest.

My Lords, that is not an unexpected reply. Does the Minister accept that the NatCen report published last month provides clear evidence that 43% of FOBT users are either problem or at-risk gamblers? In that light, does he accept that it is high time that the Government end their internal debate, override the Treasury objections and act to reduce the committed stake and slow the speed of play on these dangerous machines without any further delay?

My Lords, the noble Lord has misunderstood several things. First, the Chancellor has said publicly that he fully supports the work of the DCMS to ensure that the UK’s gambling regime continues to balance the needs of vulnerable people, consumers who gamble responsibly and those who work in this sector. Of the 2.38 million who are at risk, 1.4 million are at low risk, and I completely understand the noble Lord’s point about 430,000 problem gamblers being 430,000 too many. That is exactly why we are having the review, which we hope will be published soon. We will then be able to do something about it, depending on what the options are.

My Lords, younger gamblers, aged 18 to 24, have a greater propensity to develop problem gambling and mental health issues. They do it mostly online, which is very quick and easy. What will the Government do to reduce the volume of gambling advertising, particularly at sporting events? In many cases, the tone of this advertising is very clearly aimed at young people.

That is a valid point. Although there is a watershed protecting young children, it does not apply to live sporting events. Advertising—as well as other social responsibility issues—is included in the review, which will be published soon.

My Lords, one has only to walk down the high street in some of the very poor areas in our cities to find that every other shop appears to be a gambling place. Will the Minister look at planning laws as part of the review, to ensure that some of these gambling shops, or casinos or whatever they are, can be limited in number?

I am pleased to say that the review includes in its scope the numbers and locations of gaming machines within shops. But this is not a review of planning law—that was not included

My Lords, the fact is that this review is long overdue. The Minister has reassured the House on previous occasions about when it will be published. In the meantime, thousands of people suffering from problem gambling are left vulnerable. The Government need to act, and act promptly, on this matter. There must be a holistic approach. It is not just FOBTs, although they are a great problem, but the issue of how easy it is now to bet, particularly online. With mobile phones you can be anywhere in the world and bet a fortune. The Government must act.

That is exactly why, within the review, the issues of social responsibility and advertising are covered, including online gambling. We agree that there are issues to be dealt with. That is why we have the review and why it will be published. But there must be an evidence-based approach. There will be a consultation to make sure that, for example, action cannot be subject to judicial review.

My Lords, I speak as a former Home Office Minister responsible for these matters. In this area of gambling in particular and its effects on society, does my noble friend not agree that, however well he may be performing these responsibilities in his department, it might be a good idea for the Government to transfer them back to the Home Office, where proper regulation can be applied?

My Lords, talking of gaming machines and games of chance, Lady Emma Hamilton enjoyed games of chance and 224 years ago yesterday she met Nelson—an affair of the heart. On Nelson’s heart was engraved “lack of frigates”. He had some 284 of them. Today, the Government are committed to maintaining only 19 escorts. Does the Minister think we should have a somewhat better aspiration, or it may be engraved on all our hearts?

My Lords, will the Minister update the House about what the Government are doing to make online gambling safer for consumers, particularly in relation to operators based outside of the UK with British customers?

Online gambling was brought under the regulatory regime in 2014. One of the main ways of dealing with this is to approach the payment providers. If an unlicensed gambling operator is not obeying the regulations, they will be prevented from operating with the payment providers. There is not much point in them operating if they cannot get paid.