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Online Gambling: Stake Limits

Volume 810: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement by the Gambling Commission on 2 February of new protections and controls for those who gamble through online slots games, what plans they have to introduce measures to apply stake limits to online gambling.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, we welcome the Gambling Commission’s new measures on online slots games, which will help to reduce the intensity of play and protect vulnerable people. We are seeking evidence on the case for and against further controls, such as stake limits, as part of the Gambling Act review. It will be an evidence-based review to ensure that we get the right balance between respecting freedom of choice and preventing harms.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response but I was concerned by the Government’s apparent complacency. Only last week, shocking research by Oxford University revealed the devastating impact on the health of those who gamble more than they can afford, including an increased likelihood of suicide. That shows the urgent need for measures on affordability and tighter restrictions on advertising, for example. If the Gambling Commission also proposes online stake limits, will the Government ensure their early introduction without waiting for the outcome of the gambling review?

I cannot accept that this Government have been complacent about reviewing measures in relation to gambling and protecting vulnerable people. We have made a number of changes, most importantly in recently announcing the full-scale review. We will continue to implement things as quickly as they are needed and not wait for legislation.

My Lords, my noble friend may be aware that our former Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, of which I was a member, learned that gambling companies deliberately targeted the most vulnerable in our community. They knew exactly who was watching TV at three in the morning. With the tidal wave of increased advertising, is it not time, given the severe damage being caused, for the Government to consider a precept or special tax on these companies to offset the increased costs in health and social care resulting from abuses that are clearly taking place in our country?

I thank my noble friend for his question. As we have said, we are considering all options in this regard but have also made major commitments to increasing provision for those who are negatively impacted by gambling. We hope very much that the evidence arising from the review will shape that thinking going forward.

My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. Does my noble friend agree that if a limit on stakes for online prizes is introduced, as I think it should be, then such limits must apply equally to the maximum stake for all National Lottery online instant win games, which is currently £10?

The current maximum stake for National Lottery online instant win games has actually been changed to £5, following the Gambling Commission’s decision to withdraw all £10 online instant win games last summer. The National Lottery is regulated under a separate framework from commercial gambling, which reflects the lower ratios of harm observed there.

My Lords, on the plus side, it is noticeable how advertising is now more strenuous in warning about the dangers of gambling. But specialists in addiction tell us that the mere act of suggestion—a bottle to an alcoholic, a syringe to a drug addict, and slot games or horses to gamblers—act as incentives to partake. So it is, as we have heard, the sheer frequency of advertising that is worrying. Does the Minister therefore feel that there is a genuine desire by the gambling industry to restrict the terrible damage that can affect whole families, given its obvious conflict of interests?

I obviously cannot speak on behalf of the industry but looking at advertising and marketing, direct and indirect, is a core part of the review and one of its six main aims. Two recent consultations on advertising have just closed and there will be a response soon—one in relation to the appeal of gambling adverts to children and vulnerable people, and one around advertising and selling items in video games. I think we are all aiming for the same goal of that balance between freedom and protection.

My Lords, I know that the Minister shares with me a concern about the apparently increasing number of women who are gambling, which has a huge impact on their lives and the lives of their families and children. What assessment have the Government therefore made of the number of women who suffer from a gambling disorder in the UK? Do the Government believe that we currently have the right treatment, and enough of it, to have proper intervention for women? Does the Minister feel that there are satisfactory levels of treatment and intervention?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. The latest data that we have shows that 87% of women gambled at the same level or less during the past year, while the quarterly survey that is run shows 0.3% of women gamblers identifying as problem gamblers. The noble Baroness is right that this data relates to the last year so more work and research needs to be done to understand the true extent, and therefore the need for additional treatment and support when we have understood that fully.

My Lords, it has been suggested that stake limits online may drive gamblers to the unregulated black market. The most addictive form of online gambling is slots with no stake limit. Does the Minister agree that, while concerns around the gambling black market should be addressed, these should not impede reform of the regulated sector, including online gambling?

We are very keen to address all issues, such as online slots, which, as the noble Baroness says, is one of the most harmful and riskiest forms of gambling with the highest loss ratios. That is why these recent changes which affect the design of games are so important, but we will need to navigate in the review a number of overlapping factors, including the black market.

My Lords, I wish to draw attention to my interests in the register. Gambling companies make 60% of their profits from just 5% of players and they create VIP schemes especially for high-spend customers to encourage them to play more and more—effectively, to lose more and more money. When are the Government going to ban these VIP schemes and put measures in place to ensure that what someone spends on gambling is affordable to them?

My noble friend is right to raise the issue of VIP schemes. Our understanding is that since the commission challenged the industry on this, the number of customers in VIP schemes has fallen by 70%, and the rules governing the schemes formally came into force at the end of October. We will continue to monitor them and, if further action is needed, the Gambling Commission is ready to take it.

My Lords, the Gambling Commission is, as always, playing catch-up. Does the Minister agree that it needs to be proactive? Will the Government introduce legislation under which all gambling products, prior to their launch, would be assessed for their capacity to cause social harm?

The Gambling Commission has been very active, particularly in the last year with the risks around Covid and lockdown. We are currently looking at funding, and there is a consultation out on an uplift to Gambling Commission fees, to make sure that it can keep pace with the industry.