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House of Lords Hansard
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Gambling Legislation
10 September 2020
Volume 805

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to review gambling legislation.

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My Lords, the Government have committed to review the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure that it is fit for the digital age. We will announce further details in due course. However, we and the Gambling Commission are not waiting for the review to make gambling safer. Already this year, we have banned credit card gambling, tightened protections for online gambling in lockdown and consulted on further safeguards on product design.

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I thank the Minister for that reply. However, given that we have a third of a million problem gamblers, including 55,000 children, and one gambling-related suicide every day, action is urgently needed. I am delighted that the Minister acknowledges that some action can be taken without needing to wait for a review, and, in fact, without needing primary legislation. For example, we have a fairly tough regime for games that take place in physical premises—a regime that includes limits on stakes and prizes—but, bizarrely, no such one for online gambling. As the online gambling companies cash in on the pandemic, make more profit and put more lives at risk, will the Government now take urgent action to address this particular problem, as recommended by your Lordships’ Gambling Industry Committee?

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I thank the noble Lord and his colleagues on that committee for its excellent report, which we are considering. The noble Lord is right to point out that online gambling has a much higher risk of harm than land-based gambling, but I do not agree that we are being slow off the mark to move on this. Operators are already required to monitor the way that their customers play and to take action. As I mentioned, we have already banned the use of credit cards for gambling, and we have been monitoring very closely during Covid-19 and beyond the trends in online gambling.

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My Lords, with the significant increase in gambling harms during lockdown, are Her Majesty’s Government satisfied that the Gambling Commission has adequate resources to do its work? Is the Minister content with the commission reducing its staffing to make savings at the very point when it needs to take additional action to regulate online gambling?

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I thank the right reverend Prelate for his questions. Actually, there were fewer people using online slots and casinos in June than in March, so there are some counterintuitive trends in the gambling market. With regard to the Gambling Commission and its powers and resources, we are considering proposals for an uplift in the fees that it collects from industry. In relation to recent stories about redundancies at the commission, it is always reviewing ways to become more agile and responsive.

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My Lords, the DCMS in its sport integrity review called for legislative action on the issue of match fixing. Will the Minister look to amend Section 42 on cheating in the now very much outdated Gambling Act 2005, so as to bring the UK in line with international best practice by introducing specific match-fixing legislation?

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I know that my noble friend has worked very hard on this important issue. I cannot comment on the specifics, but I can reassure him that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that the review of the Act results in making it fit for purpose in a digital age.

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My Lords, the Minister has said that the intention of the Government is to review the 2005 Act to see if it is up to date for dealing with the digital age. It is perfectly clear that it is not. Will the Government treat as a matter of urgency completing their review of this Act and introduce new legislation in the coming year?

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I hope I can reassure the noble Lord when I say, genuinely, that this is being actively worked on at the moment.

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My Lords, I want to raise the point that the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, introduced. We have the worrying situation of 55,000 10 to16 year-olds now gambling online. Action can be taken quickly on this; it could be taken in the context of the online harms Bill. Will the Minister say whether she is prepared to have something in that Bill that will bring this to an end and that the Government will place a duty of care on the gambling industry? If not, why not?

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I can only repeat what I have said already: we are going to conduct the review very thoroughly. We found your Lordships’ report most helpful. We also consulted last year on whether to raise the minimum age for playing the lottery to 18, and we will publish our response to that consultation in due course.

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My Lords, will the Government make it clear to the FA, the Premiership, the Football League and the National League that the direction of travel is inevitably to ban gambling advertising on shirts and that they should prepare now for that reality?

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Both gambling advertising and gambling sponsorship are subject to extremely strict rules, and must never target children or vulnerable people. The whistle-to-whistle ban has actually resulted in a reduction in the number of advertisements that children are seeing.

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My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. There is evidence to link loot box spending and problem gambling among young adolescents. Does my noble friend the Minister agree with me that a relatively simple change in legislation could bring loot boxes into the classification of gambling and, as a result, they would become properly regulated and available only for those aged 18 years and older?

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My noble friend will be aware that we committed in our manifesto to tackle issues around loot boxes. We have announced that we are launching a call for evidence to inform the next steps on this.

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My Lords, is not one of the great problems the lack of statutory control of advertising, which largely lies in the hands of the industry? I am delighted to hear that the long-delayed DCMS review of gambling legislation is to be restarted. Can the Minister confirm that it will cover this important lacuna?

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I cannot be specific on the scope of the review, but the evidence is not clear about the link between advertising and problem gambling, particularly among young people. The evidence points rather to the behaviour of parents and peers in influencing them.

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I remain deeply concerned that the Government continue to postpone primary legislation to deal with the gambling crisis: there are growing levels of addiction and an acceleration of domestic violence and family break-ups. They are standing by when thousands of young people slide into avoidable habits; there is poverty, misery and daily suicides. Will the Minister give a clearer indication as to a date when we may expect legislation?

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Just to be clear, the data shows that problem gambling remains at around 1% and has not changed over a long period of time. We are keen to get this review of the legislation right and we will bring the consultation forward as soon as possible.

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Does my noble friend agree that the new phenomenon of gambling companies using TV and radio advertising to apparently promote some restraint in gambling is actually having the reverse effect of further encouraging gambling, as well their own particular brands?

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I am sorry to disagree with my noble friend, but I am not aware of any evidence that supports that.

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My Lords, when the Government banned tobacco advertising on television, at that point they were convinced of the efficacy of advertising in persuading people to undertake certain activities. Eighty per cent of gambling marketing spend is now online. In 2017, about £1.2 billion was spent, and it is probably more now. Given the harm that gambling can cause to health, as well as society, will the Government ban online gambling advertising in the same way as they so successfully banned tobacco advertising on television?

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Advertising, as long as it is done responsibly, is an important advantage that licensed operators have over the black market, so the noble Baroness’s suggestion is not without risk.

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My Lords, all the supplementary questions have been asked. Does the Chief Whip want to come in at this point? No? In that case, we will move to the third Oral Question.