THE review this week of laws regulating the gambling industry provides an opportunity to “end the normalisation of gambling”, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has said.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is leading the review, which began on Tuesday with a call for evidence. It could result in the revocation of, or significant changes to parts of the 2005 Gambling Act, which liberalised the industry.
Actions that could be taken include imposing limits on the size of people’s bets, having tougher affordability checks for those who wish to place bets; imposing a levy on the gambling industry which would divert some of its revenue towards funding prevention strategies and treatment for gambling addiction — something that is currently voluntary; and limiting the ability of betting companies to advertise through sports. This could include the removal of betting firms’ logos from clothing worn by footballers.
The minimum age for taking part in the National Lottery could be raised to 18 years old.
Dr Smith, who has campaigned for the reform of gambling law, said on Tuesday: “The announcement of the review is a welcome opportunity to finally see the change that I and many others have long campaigned for.
“Last year, I served on the Lords Select Committee on Gambling Harms, and we made many recommendations to protect those adversely affected by problem gambling. Many of those recommendations require no primary legislation. Implementing them before the review concludes would send a positive signal that the Government is committed to tackling problem gambling.”
He said that the involvement of children in the gambling industry was a further concern that needed to be urgently addressed. “Possibly the most shocking revelation in recent years has been the explosive rise of problem gambling amongst children, which has risen from 55,000 in 2019 to around 62,000 in 2020.
“Over recent years, we have allowed the gambling industry to infiltrate the innocuous business of sport through adverts that expose children to gambling. There is a strong moral argument to end this normalisation of gambling and take a hard line on adverts, whether it be on the TV or through sponsorship.
“This is an opportunity to create greater safeguarding systems within gambling, and also to overhaul our approach to gambling. We need to adopt a public-health-led approach that places a statutory duty of care on the gambling industry.”
Last month, Dr Smith called on the Government to do more to deal with “problem gambling”, and said that the review of the Gambling Act was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” (News, 20 November).
An estimated 430,000 people in Britain have a gambling problem. In the year leading up to March 2019, gamblers collectively lost about £14.4 billion.
The head of communications for the organisation Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), James Mildred, said on Tuesday that the review was “the first step” towards making lasting changes to the law.
“Gambling-related harms range from serious financial loss to job losses, relationship and family breakdown, and cause social devastation for individuals and whole communities. The existing 2005 Gambling Act is out of date in the digital age, where more and more people are betting online, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“This review, which was a manifesto commitment, is the first step towards making significant changes to gambling laws, and CARE will be making a robust case for positive change. There are many areas where the law is currently weak, and that is why this opportunity to inform new laws is so welcome.
“We need laws that prioritise the protection of individuals from gambling-related harms, and we hope this review will help contribute to genuine and real reform,” he said.
On Wednesday, Dr Smith and 13 other signatories, including the chairman of Christians in Parliament, Gary Streeter MP, and a trustee of the Quaker Mental Health Fund, Baroness Meacher, wrote to The Times to express support for the proposals in the House of Lords report Gambling Harm: Time for action, which was released in July. “Those reforms that can be implemented now should be, if we are to prevent any further harm,” they wrote.