Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Gambling regulations in the UK - the need for balance

The Gambling Commission was set up under the Gambling Act 2005 to regulate commercial gambling in the UK in partnership with licensing authorities. They also regulate the National Lottery under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. Gambling is a diverse concept that incorporates a range of activities done in a variety of settings. There are conflicting advantages and disadvantages to gambling and the various methods through which it can be done. The government must try to balance the economic and entertainment benefits of the industry alongside the need to protect vulnerable people and children from engagement and addiction. Although striking a balance is difficult and attempts have been made, there is currently more that can and should be done to protect the vulnerable.

     Image source: https://www.casino.org/

As with all commercial activities, a degree of regulatory oversight to gambling is needed to ensure fairness and consistency, especially as it is inherently unpredictable and prone to manipulation. Consequently, as a matter of public order, governments have often intervened in order to ensure a measure of consistency and fairness. However, and almost inevitably, the involvement of government in gambling has not been restricted to its control or suppression. For many centuries, ruling authorities have recognised that there is much to be gained from organising and permitting gambling as a means of deriving revenue. The intervention of government in gambling gives rise to a conflict of interest. Once a government organises and profits from gambling through taxation, it cannot easily by the same token condemn it as illegal or morally inappropriate.

Beneficial aspects of gambling
A survey comprising 7,756 adults (16 years and above)(Wardle, et al, 2011) reported that: Approximately 73% of British adults participated in some form of gambling in 2010. Therefore the industry undoubtedly backs the British economy, having contributed more than £10bn to the economy last year (BBC News) with the industry employing more than 106,000 employees and the National Lottery having contributed £1.6bn to good causes (Gambling Commission Report 2016). The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) minister Tracy Crouch therefore accurately stated that: "It is important that gambling regulations strike the right balance between allowing the industry to contribute to the economy and enable people to bet responsibly whilst ensuring consumers and communities are protected." This is because gambling is now so embedded in our society that it would be impossible to ban. Its sponsorship funds sport, its shops employ thousands of people and, on occasion, it can bring communities together.

In the UK, the term ‘problem gambling’ has been used by many researchers, bodies, and organisations, to describe gambling that compromises, disrupts or damages family, employment or personal life (Griffiths, 2004) and more than 2 million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction (Gambling commission 2017). Problem gambling has been highlighted as an emerging public health issue in recent years (Dowling et al., 2016). Gambling activity has also been linked to several issues such as higher instances of substance use (Chapman & Radermacher, 2014), greater likelihood of perpetrating domestic violence (Dowling et al 2016), greater risk of homelessness (Holdsworth & Tiyce, 2012), and psychological disorders, specifically anxiety and depression (Suomi, Dowling & Jackson, 2014).

The government admitted that limits on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which allow gamblers to bet up to £300 a minute, were inappropriate. Tracey Crouch said the government would cut the maximum bet on the machines from £100 to between £2 and £50. FOBTs have sometimes been called the “crack cocaine of gambling” due to the speed and addictive nature of the games they offer. However, the Gambling Commission decided is that stakes on highly addictive roulette-style FOBT’s should be cut to below £30. That’s 15 times the £2 maximum stake sought by campaigners with Tom Watson Labour Deputy leader agreeing that £30 is still dangerously high.

However, the regulator failed to recommend cutting stakes on controversial FOBTs to £2. The bookies’ line of defence is there is no evidence to suggest that FOBTs fuel problem-gambling and that a cut in the maximum stake to £2 would cost 20,000 jobs. They also say that doing so would slash the Treasury’s income from machine-gaming duty by hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. On the other hand however, there are human costs of failing to impose adequate safeguards. The Gambling Commission is aware of this, as last year it found that 43% of people who use the machines are either problem or at-risk gamblers.  However, the Association of British Bookmakers has previously stated that any review should be "evidence-based and not unfairly penalise the majority who gamble responsibly and enjoy their leisure pursuit". FOBTs brought in a gross yield of £1.8bn between October 2015 and September 2016, and are therefore an important part of the industry, as they are the leading source of revenue for high-street bookmakers including Ladbrokes Coral and William Hill, (Financial Times).

Furthermore, there is already in place a government scheme that allows staff at betting shops to identify gamblers who face problem and prohibit them entry. However, the scheme has recently drawn criticism after an investigation carried out by reporter Rob Cave for BBC’s 5 Live Investigates who was posing as a known problem gambler who should have been ejected from bookmakers when attempting to use FOBTs was asked to leave only two out of 21 betting shops. In response, the Gambling Commission said that it plans on introducing measures to deal with the problem. One of the punishments is penalty. As in March Gambling Commission imposed £1m penalty package on SkyBet for failing to protect vulnerable consumers

The UK Gambling Commission report (November 2016) identifies an increase in online gambling prevalence, which now accounts for 33% of all gambling in Britain, making it the largest gambling sector by revenue.  The UK also has the largest regulated online gambling market in the world with around 21 million active accounts. There is concern that recent innovations of traditional face-to-face gambling may lead to increased harm, as online gambling makes the pastime available to those who may not have felt comfortable going to a physical casino, also eliminating the need to dress up, leave the house and spend money on transportation and food. These technological changes are leading to changes in the social regulation of gambling as a public behaviour, as well as facilitating targeted and unregulated advertising to potentially vulnerable individuals.

In order to protect local customers from the risks associated with compulsive gambling, the Gambling Act 2014 has provided for an online self-exclusion scheme. The GAMSTOP scheme allows individuals to self-exclude from the services of all online gambling companies running under a license issued by the UK Gambling Commission. However, this is arguably not enough, online gambling firms should also be identifying and taking action to prevent problem gambling behaviour. Online gambling firm 888 failed in its handling of vulnerable customers and therefore had to pay a £7.8m penalty. The Gambling Commission’s investigation found that due to a technical failure in its systems, 7,000 customers who had chosen to exclude themselves were still able to gamble. Another customer bet more than £1.3m over 13 months before he was identified as having a problem.

Additionally, online gambling will inevitably be contributing to the fact that around 25,000 children aged between 11 and 16 are problem gamblers, with a further 36,000 at risk of developing a problem (Gambling commission report 2017). With many learning to bet via computer games and social media, according to the gambling commissions report that has prompted warnings that Britain is “sleepwalking into a future public health storm”. Tom Watson recognised the need to ‘tighten up’ regulations in relation to online gambling, accurately describing the laws as ‘out of date’.

Overall, It has also been argued there is no reason why betting shops and online sites should not be nationalised, in the same way the lottery is. Private companies would be able to bid to run betting shops, as Camelot runs the national lottery. The vast majority of profits could go back into sport, community projects and taxes. However in absence of such action, The National Responsible Gambling Strategy emphasises the need for joint action between industry, government, healthcare providers and other public bodies to tackle gambling-related harm. The government should also ensure that there is funding for research, education and treatment for problem gamblers and affected people if it wishes to continue to allow the industry to benefit the economy. Moreover, the gambling industry should be more proactive in using their existing data and technology to identify and help problem gamblers. It is vital that the gambling industry takes its duty to protect consumers and keep crime out of gambling seriously



  1. I'm not really into gambling because when I do I always lose my money lol.

    xx Simone
    Little Glittery Box

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Ahh gambling can be addictive that's why I don't like it haha and I always lose too.

    Only Yesterday

  4. With my luck I loose eveytime I'm gambling ahhah!!


  5. I love your posts about law. This was very interesting to read although I'm not for UK and I'm not interesting in gambling. Thank you for sharing.

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  6. So great post


  7. I am not a gambling person, but I am sure those who do will find it useful!


  8. Not really into gambling either but this post
    is very interesting tbh :)
    thanks for sharing! kisses!

    My blog - Lalabetterdayz

  9. really nice post dear :) I like to read your blog :)



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