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Gambling regulation is ‘too light-touch’ says Bishop of St Albans

30 May 2020


THE regulation of VIP schemes, which encourage gamblers to bet large sums of money, is “too light-touch”, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has said.

He was speaking after the gambling company Playtech was fined £3.5 million after a customer of its subsidiary, PT Entertainment Services (PTES), took his own life.

An 18-month investigation by the regulator the Gambling Commission had originally concluded that PTES would have been fined £3.5 million had it not surrendered its operating licence during the investigation.

Playtech, PTES’s parent company, announced on Thursday, however, that it had agreed to pay the fine. Playtech said that it took “full responsibility” for regulatory breaches and said that it would be apologising to Mr Bruney’s family.

The Gambling Commission’s investigation had concluded that PTES had “failed to carry out any responsible gambling customer interactions even though it was aware that several of his [Mr Bruney’s] debit card transactions had been declined. PTES also provided him with VIP status without verifying that he could afford to spend the amounts of money he was playing with — all of which are serious and unacceptable failings.”

Between 1 and 5 April 2017, Mr Bruney “deposited and lost £119,395, with no information obtained by PTES to verify whether he could afford that level of play”, the Gambling Commission said. When his account was closed after his death on 12 April, it had incurred a net loss of £34,068.

Dr Smith said on Thursday that the fact that the Gambling Commission was not able initially to impose a fine, because PTES had surrendered its licence, was “yet more evidence the regulation of VIP schemes is too light-touch. This case marked a failure of regulation to keep up with the pace and change within the gambling industry.

“We need to have a major debate within this country about how the industry is regulated more widely, starting with addressing calls for an end to VIP schemes and inducement bets. Gambling is now increasingly being linked with suicide. Hundreds of families across the UK have experienced the devastation of a gambling-related suicide — it cannot go on like this.”

He continued: “I look forward to seeing the MPs in the All Party Parliamentary Group on gambling-related harm publishing their own assessment of the gambling industry, the Select Committee I sit on within the House of Lords investigating the sector, and the Government’s own manifesto pledged review of the Gambling Act 2005.”

Dr Smith has previously criticised the gambling sector for some of its practices. In January, he called for inquest laws to be changed so that the part played by gambling debts could be highlighted in cases of suicide (News, 24 January).

“I have met far too many families whose lives have been destroyed by the loss of a loved one — often young adults who have their entire lives ahead of them,” he said. “As there is no accurate, up-to-date data linking gambling with suicide, their desire to get the Government to take action has often been stymied.”

The charity Gambling with Lives has called for VIP schemes to be banned.

PT Entertainment Services said that it had closed the websites used by Mr Bruney before the investigation began — including winner.co.uk and titanbet.co.uk — and had donated £620,000 to charity.

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