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Gambling Commission: Data

Volume 815: debated on Wednesday 20 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that gambling operators provide high quality and accurate data for use by the Gambling Commission.

My Lords, operators must already provide accurate data to the Gambling Commission as a condition of their licence. If an operator misrepresents or fails to provide information, this could lead to regulatory action. However, it is clear that data quality standards need to improve. The commission has announced that the industry can expect targeted enforcement action in this area from next year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and draw attention to my entry in the register. The establishment of the data repository is very welcome. Can the Minister put very clearly on the record that it will be a requirement for gambling companies to provide data to that repository and that this will not be voluntary? Can he further tell us what plans there are to ensure that all legitimate researchers will have access to that data?

I am glad we had the opportunity to discuss this last week in the debate initiated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. The PHE review that we debated highlighted the significant evidence gaps and the importance of research. We are looking at the best ways to facilitate high-quality research as part of our review of the Gambling Act, including how we can make better use of operator data. The commission is taking forward the work on the national data repository, with the aim of collecting operator data for use by researchers.

My Lords, I have given notice of my question. Recent research reveals a correlation in one in four gamblers between higher rates of gambling spend as a proportion of income and gambling harm. This challenges the Government’s oft-repeated view that

“the vast majority of people who gamble do not experience harm”.—[Official Report, 7/1/21; col. 281.]

The Minister’s predecessor dismissed this research when I brought it to her attention, because it does not establish a causative link between gambling spend and gambling harm. Surely the correct response is for the Minister to engage with this research and expand upon it to see whether it can prove that link, rather than dismissing it and preferring surveys of high-risk gamblers.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the advance notice; it gave me an opportunity to look at his Written Question and the reply from my noble friend. I do not think she was dismissing what he said. This is simply a product of what is still, as I have said, an emerging area in which data and research are being gathered. Dr Naomi Muggleton’s research has been an important contribution to our efforts to understand the widening impacts of gambling harm. Our review is looking at the barriers to conducting high-quality research such as this, which can inform our policy. Following the publication of the PHE review which we debated last week, we are working with the DHSC and others to complete that picture and improve the data and research we have.

Given the Minister’s belief in data and research, why are the Government not taking action on research that shows that 60,000 children are gambling addicts? Why is the consultation on loot boxes taking so long, when this is a serious problem today? Will the Minister get a move on, please?

The proportion of children gambling is in decline. As the noble Lord will know, we have raised the age limit for playing the National Lottery to 18. We are also delivering on our manifesto commitment to tackle the issue of loot boxes. We called for evidence last year and received over 30,000 responses, which of course we will respond to in the proper way.

My Lords, the losses to the gambling public last year were £14.2 billion—also known as the profits made by gambling companies after expenses. In looking at this data, as the Minister has promised to do, will he look at how much has been spent on media and online advertising, because the sole purpose of this advertising is to increase the amount of gambling, often at the expense of some of the most vulnerable in society who can least afford it? Will the Government look at the data and the consequence of it? Will they also look at either further restricting or, indeed, banning some of this appalling advertising?

All gambling advertising, wherever it appears, is subject to strict controls on content and placement. As part of the broad review of the Gambling Act, we have called for evidence on the impacts of advertising to make sure that the right controls are in place and, particularly, are effective in the digital age.

I would like to build on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. Recent research has shown that a quarter of gamblers are 400% more likely to take out payday loans than the average person. It is a shocking figure. Surely the Minister would agree that giving the Gambling Commission access to anonymised gamblers’ data would help uncover the causal link between the two and enable the commission to step in and prevent further harm to gamblers?

I certainly agree with the noble Viscount that the data is crucial to understanding the causes of harm and what we might be able to do to tackle it. That is why the Gambling Commission is taking forward work on the national repository of operator data. It is also working closely with credit reference agencies and others to understand what role financial data can play in preventing gambling harm.

My Lords, the Gambling Commission regularly publishes statistics and research on the regulated gambling sector, helping to form the basis of its responses to challenges such as problem or under-age gambling. It is acknowledged that the pandemic has changed not only the industry but the way in which the information is submitted, collated and reported. Is the Minister concerned that some of the figures relating to the impact of gambling may have been understated in recent releases? When do the Government expect normal service to be resumed?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point to the impact of the pandemic which, in this area as in so many others, will have definitely had an impact. A lot has changed in the 15 years since the Gambling Act, which is why we are reviewing it in the way that we are. The commission is setting out the next steps that it will take to make sure that operators are submitting high-quality and accurate data to inform that review.

I declare my interest as chair of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme. Will my noble friend welcome and note the willingness of the industry to co-operate in providing this data and to work with the Government and the Gambling Commission? Will he also ensure and give a commitment today that gaming, betting shops and casinos will not be disadvantaged in relation to their online counterparts in the provision of data?

I certainly welcome the engagement that we have had, and continue to have, from the industry in this important area. As part of our review, we called for evidence on the changes to the legislation governing casinos and we are looking at those responses. Making sure that we have an equitable approach to online and land-based regulation is an important objective of our review.

My Lords, through the pandemic the use of data in the National Health Service has made it obvious to all of us what a good database can help us achieve. Surely a database of a similar order in respect of the gambling industry would similarly help us make good progress towards addressing these problems that are frequently, and over many years, mentioned in this House. The single customer view methodology takes people’s data—with the permission of the Information Commissioner, as regards GDPR—and pools it to provide precisely the database that I think we would all welcome. Will the Minister assure us that this is a way forward and that he is committed with his officials to finding a solution?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that good data drives good policy, and that is what we want to see in the review. The Gambling Commission is working with operators on how they can share data where they believe a customer is at risk, and the Information Commissioner has confirmed that data protection law can permit this in relation to the work on single customer view, as the noble Lord mentioned. We encourage the industry to trial a solution swiftly.

My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. Some reports have estimated that unregulated gambling on the dark web and black market has doubled during the pandemic. Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House whether his department is working or has plans to work with the Gambling Commission to investigate illegal gambling activity taking place and to collect data on the levels of money being spent?

The dark web is clearly one area where the changes over the last 15 years can be seen. We called for evidence on the black market as part of our review and we must make sure that the Gambling Commission is set up to respond flexibly to the challenges that the future will bring. The commission has also received an uplift to its licence fees, which came into effect this month, which will strengthen the resources which it has to monitor and tackle illegal gambling.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that gambling can be a great entertainment, particularly in places such as Spanish City in Whitley Bay, but it can also be a very destructive addiction. Does he agree that targeted advertising aimed at vulnerable people, particularly young people and chronic gamblers, is one of the main drivers of addiction, and will the Government make this one of the priorities for reform?

I certainly know and remember Spanish City well; I will be back there this weekend. The advertising codes are clear that gambling adverts must never be targeted at children or vulnerable people. The Advertising Standards Authority recently announced changes to the gambling codes to protect vulnerable people, and further details on changes to protect children will follow by the end of the year.