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Gambling Reform

Volume 813: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the report produced by NERA Economic Consulting for the Peers for Gambling Reform group Economic Assessment of Selected House of Lords Gambling Reforms, published on 26 May, what assessment they have made of the positive economic effects of implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry (HL Paper 79, Session 2019–21).

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as a vice-chair of Peers for Gambling Reform.

My Lords, we are carefully considering the report by NERA Economic Consulting, along with the large amount of evidence we have received in connection with our review. There are clearly difficulties in making precise predictions, but we welcome this analysis. We aim to publish a White Paper by the end of the year, setting out our conclusions and the next steps for the gambling review.

[Inaudible]—the IPPR estimates for the cost of problem gambling are between £270 million and £1.17 billion per annum, but there is evidence to suggest these are underestimates. Extrapolating problem gambling costs from studies in other jurisdictions suggests it could be as much as £6.5 billion—far beyond the £3 billion in annual tax contributions provided by the gambling industry. Will the Government commit to researching the costs of problem gambling, so we can determine whether the contributions from the gambling industry are offset by the damage caused by it?

I apologise; we slightly missed the beginning of the right reverend Prelate’s comments, in the Chamber. If I have missed anything, I will write to him, but I think I got the essence of his question. We are of course looking at the economic costs. I do not recognise the £6.5 billion figure that the right reverend Prelate cites, but he is aware that one of the complexities of looking at this is the comorbidity between gambling and other forms of harm, which we need to take into consideration.

My Lords, I declare my interests, as set out in the register. Can my noble friend the Minister assure me that, when her department develops these crucial reforms to the gambling industry, she will ensure that this review is not just evidence-based but grounded on a wide range of opinion that takes into account both the NERA report and the most recent research from a variety of organisations and groups, including the industry itself?

I reassure my noble friend that we are considering a very wide range of evidence. Our call for evidence received over 16,000 submissions from a wide range of organisations—from charities, academics and the gambling industry, but also broadcasters, local government and sports organisations. We are considering it all carefully.

My Lords, in their response to the Select Committee report, the Government said,

“The Committee is also right to say that further progress to make gambling safer does not need to wait for the outcome of the Act Review.”

Can the noble Baroness update the House on what action has been taken so far?

I would be breaching the Lord Speaker’s guidance if I were to give the noble Lord the full list, but his point is important. We have not waited for the end of the review to take action where it is needed. To give a couple of examples, in the past 18 months, we have banned gambling on credit cards and introduced new rules to limit the intensity of online slot games.

My Lords, the public health policies applied to tobacco and alcohol addiction are not being applied to gambling. The Government can easily modify Section 328 of the Gambling Act 2005 to control gambling advertising. Can the Minister please explain why the gambling industry and addiction are treated differently?

We cannot prejudge the outcome of the Gambling Act review, but the essence of a public health response, which looks at the products, players and environment, are included within it.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Peers for Gambling Reform. The NERA report shows that measures to reduce gambling harm, such as banning gambling sponsorship of football, would also help the UK economy. Such sponsorship links football and gambling in the minds of children. Just one edition of the BBC’s Match of the Day magazine, advertised as for “footy-mad youngsters”, had 52 gambling logos. Does the Minister think this is acceptable?

The noble Lord is right to raise these issues. As he knows, we are looking at this as part of the review of the Act. We have seen the conclusions from the NERA report on sports sponsorship, but we need to test them with sports bodies themselves.

Reform is needed sooner rather than later, if we are to get to grips with gambling-related harms. Can the Minister tell us when the Government expect to publish the review findings and associated legislation, and also whether loot boxes, which are currently unregulated, will be drawn into a system of regulation?

On the noble Lord’s second point, he will be aware that our call for evidence on loot boxes closed on 22 November. We had over 30,000 responses; we are reviewing that evidence and will set out our response in the coming months. I cannot give the noble Lord an idea of timing for legislation, but we will be publishing our response to the Gambling Act consultation later this year, and we also intend to publish a White Paper.

I refer to my interest on the register, as the chair of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme board. My noble friend will be aware that there are positive economic benefits from betting shops in market towns and on high streets. Are the Government looking particularly at how to balance the contribution that these shops make, in employing local people and to the local economy, while safeguarding the health and welfare of those who gamble?

My noble friend puts it very well. We are trying to balance the harm that gambling can cause in certain instances, while looking also at the economic impact—including in market towns.

My Lords, the problems of juvenile gambling are changing. Seaside arcades are being overtaken by online gambling, and there is a threat it can soon become an addiction that destroys lives. The Government have a duty to protect young people from destroying their future, particularly during lockdown. Does the Minister agree with me that targeted advertising to vulnerable people is one of the main drivers? Will the Government make this one of the priorities for reform?

The noble Lord is right, and we have made it a priority. He will be pleased to know that the biggest category of responses to the consultation was in relation to protecting children. He will be aware that we recently held consultations on the appeal of gambling adverts to children and vulnerable people in particular.

When my noble friend Lord Foster and I were elected to another place on the same night in 1992, I suspect neither of us imagined we would come across so many lives devastated by gambling. I switched on the TV today at 9.30 am, not to a programme but to a betting advert. Can we have a watershed, so those adverts are not shown on TV before, say, 9 pm?

The aim of the current regulation around gambling advertising focuses particularly on making sure that adverts are not attractive to children and vulnerable people, but, as I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, that is being consulted on at the moment.

Gambling can destroy families. Our aim with the Gambling Act review is to make sure that the majority of gamblers, whose lives are not destroyed as a result, can continue to gamble safely, but we protect vulnerable people from the harm the noble Lord talks about.