THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has welcomed the recommendations of a new report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the social and economic impact of the gambling industry, Gambling Harm: Time for action, which was released on Thursday.
‘And there’s a gaming room’
It has 66 recommendations, which the committee says the Government should implement to better regulate the gambling industry. Dr Smith said on Thursday: “If the Government implements all the recommendations, it will make a mammoth difference to those who are affected — the 430,000 problem-gamblers in existence.”
The report’s recommendations include banning gambling companies from advertising on sports kit or near sport grounds; bringing “loot boxes” — virtual items that can be redeemed online — within the remit of gambling legislation and regulation; and creating a statutory independent gambling ombudsman service, modelled on the Financial Ombudsman Service, to settle disputes between gambling operators and gamblers.
The committee, of which Dr Smith is a member, also said that the Gambling Commission should explain the minimum steps which operators should take when considering which customers can afford to play, as well as create a system for testing all new games against a series of “harm indicators”, including how addictive they are and whether they will appeal to children. The committee has said that any game scoring too highly on these indicators should not be approved.
Lord Grade of Yarmouth, who chairs the committee, said that “soft-touch” regulations had created a “perfect storm” of addiction, and “made the lives of two million people miserable”.
Dr Smith described addiction as “a serious social problem. The number of people suffering puts it on a par with tobacco and alcohol. What this report is really about is not raffles at church fêtes — it’s the highly addictive games that pull you in with fast spin to give you immediate gratification. It’s like going to the door of an alcoholic and offering a free drink.
“People who take their own lives are predominantly younger men, but, increasingly, we’re getting reports of women who are addicted and better at hiding it for longer so they don’t lose their children. Men are more likely to do something drastic. Fifty-five thousand teenagers are also affected, and probably will be affected for most of their lives.
“The Treasury has a huge income from the taxation on gambling firms. But, meanwhile, the NHS is opening up gambling-addiction clinics across the country, and we pay for that with our taxes.
“The danger is the lobbying efforts by the gambling industry. Most people believe what the gambling industry says in its adverts, which is that people are having fun, even though most poorer people are just ‘taking a punt’ because they’re on minimum wage and hope they might get lucky. It’s a huge con.
“The industry also wants to talk about ‘addicts’, as it’s language that implies those affected are just weak, feeble people, which reinforces their position. Charities talk instead about ‘gambling-related harm’, which focuses on the industry, not the people. Language is a weapon, and we need to call out the gambling industry’s use of it.”
Dr Smith had previously called for regulation of the gambling industry to be strengthened, describing the current system as too “light-touch” after the gambling company Playtech was fined £3.5 million after a customer of its subsidiary, PT Entertainment Services (PTES), took his own life (News, 5 June).
On Thursday, he called for immediate action. “The key is for the Government not to shelve this for the next two or three years by just reviewing the terms of the Gambling Act. Only about three of the recommendations require a change of the law, Most don’t, and could really improve people’s lives.”