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Gambling Commission: Problem Gambling

Volume 802: debated on Thursday 5 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support the Gambling Commission to address problem gambling.

I thought maybe I was going to get two Questions in one.

My Lords, we are committed to reducing gambling-related harm and we are working closely with the Gambling Commission to do that. We have strengthened many protections in the last year, cutting stakes on FOBTs, tightening online age and identity checks, and announcing a ban on credit card gambling. We are carefully considering the recent recommendations from the National Audit Office and we have committed to review the Gambling Act to make sure that it is fit for the digital age.

My Lords, I apologise for rushing my Question. The Gambling Commission reports that the number of problem gamblers is now 430,000—an increase of more than 100,000 since 2012—and that the number in danger now exceeds 2.3 million, including 11.5% of those who use machines in bookmakers’ premises: a 50% increase since 2012. In addition to any measures to control the industry, what steps will the Government take to inform and reach out to members of the public, especially those at risk, and to ensure that support, including medical support where relevant, is available to them?

There are a number of elements in the noble Lord’s question. On the number of problem gamblers, he is quite right that it has become much easier to gamble and there is a lot of sponsorship and advertising around gamblers. The percentage of problem and at-risk gamblers has actually stayed very stable over the years, but the Government have a manifesto commitment to review the Gambling Act to make sure that it is fit for the digital age. The noble Lord will be aware that significant investment is being made through the NHS in specialist treatment clinics for problem gamblers.

My Lords, gambling addicts can accumulate a significant amount of debt and in order to pay it off, they are sometimes taking out personal loans and credit cards. What are the Government doing by way of working with the banks and financial institutions to identify and address the issue and curb this, as it is increasing? I declare an interest as the chairman of the Financial Ombudsman Service.

I thank my noble friend for her question. On the risk of problem gambling, all operators will have to join GAMSTOP, the one-stop online self-exclusion scheme that will come into effect at the end of this month. As she will be aware, the Government announced the banning of credit card gambling, which is extremely important because less than 1% of the population are problem gamblers but 22% of credit card gamblers were found to be so. I look forward to talking to my noble friend more about what else we can do in relation to the financial services industry.

My Lords, at a time when the NHS is facing such unbelievable pressures from the coronavirus, it is also having to set up 14 gambling clinics across the country to try to deal with this situation. The industry has a gross gambling yield of £14 billion a year. Is it not time to bring in a statutory levy, so that the polluter pays for the damage being caused?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his suggestion. There are currently no plans to introduce a statutory levy. As he will be aware, the gambling companies make a major contribution of about £3 billion in tax. The concerns around a statutory levy would be the same for gambling as for tobacco or alcohol, which also carry huge health risks, so there are no current plans to proceed with that.

My Lords, the NAO recognises that the Gambling Commission is a small body struggling to keep up with a fast-changing industry, but surely there are some things it could be doing. For example, an increasing amount of gambling is taking place online, which is a growing issue for problem gamblers; yet although we have stakes and prize limits for land-based gambling products, there are none for similar online products. Can the Minister explain why not?

I cannot explain why not today, but consideration will be given as to whether that is in scope of the legislative review. As I said, one of our tasks is to ensure that the legislation is completely relevant for the digital age.

My Lords, first, I echo what the right reverend Prelate has said about a levy. We must steel ourselves to the outcry from the gambling industry, and just do it. It has to pay for all the costs that have been transferred to the NHS, and that is that. It is time that the Government expressed a degree of urgency on that question. Secondly, last week the National Audit Office report concluded:

“The Gambling Commission is a small regulator in a challenging and dynamic industry”

and is

“constrained by factors outside its control”.

Can the Government strengthen this small regulator and give it teeth and a course of action that will lead to better regulation from within the industry, rather than us tiresomely having to bring these concerns again and again to the attention of the House?

I am sorry to repeat myself but clearly, our review of the Act, about which there is great urgency, is a key part of this. We work closely with the commission to ensure that it has the funding it needs in the way that it needs it, in order to fulfil its task. We recognise that its principal focus recently has been on the regulation of online gambling, which is more complicated and resource-intensive. The Government are absolutely open to discussing suggestions from the commission to improve its position.