Written evidence submitted by the
Local Government Association

 

 


 

  1.               About the Local Government Association (LGA)

 

1.1.            The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically led, cross-party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales. 

 

1.2.            Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.

 

  1.               Summary

 

2.1  Licensing authorities have responsibility for overseeing gambling in non-remote premises, such as betting shops, adult gaming centres and bingo halls. Councils do this by:

2.1.1        Setting the local framework for gambling through their statement of principles

2.1.2        Considering applications and issuing licences for premises where gambling takes place, with conditions where appropriate

2.1.3        Reviewing or revoking premises licences

2.1.4        Issuing permits for certain forms of gambling

2.1.5        Undertaking inspection and enforcement activities, including tackling illegal gambling

2.2  At present, councils do not have the full powers that they need to effectively manage local gambling premises. We would welcome more flexibility to allow local democratically elected councillors to control the number of gambling premises, if such decisions can be shown to be in the interests of the local economy and community.

2.3  Under the Gambling Act 2005, councils are bound by a statutory aim to permit gambling. This means that licensing authorities must accept applications for gambling premises as long as they are made in accordance with the three licensing objectives under the Gambling Act 2005. These are to: prevent gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder, or being used to support crime; ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way; and, protect children and other vulnerable people from harm and exploitation.

2.4  Whether through a cumulative impact assessment or other tool, the Gambling Act Review should bring forward a new legal power, which in specific circumstances would allow local areas to not have to abide by the statutory aim to permit new premises. It would also be helpful if the Review recommended that the Gambling Act 2005 placed a greater focus on taking a public health approach.

2.5  The LGA also supports the introduction of a mandatory levy on gambling firms, based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, to help fund a significant expansion of treatment and support for those experiencing gambling related harm.

2.6  The LGA has produced guidance to support councils with their responsibilities relating to gambling licensing. We are also updating our guidance on taking a whole council approach to tackling gambling related harms, and aim to publish a revised version in the spring of 2023.

  1. What is the scale of gambling-related harm in the UK? 

3.1  Gambling related harm is a broad concept and encompasses both harm to the individual involved in gambling themselves and the harm to their families, friends, colleagues, and those within the wider community who may not have been involved in gambling themselves. Gambling related harms may include financial hardship, debt, relationship breakdown, domestic abuse, mental health problems and suicidal thoughts.
 

3.2  The Gambling Commission’s most recent survey on gambling participation found that, in the year to June 2021, 42 percent of the population had participated in some form of gambling activity. The survey also found that 0.4 per cent of people participate in harmful gambling, and that 0.7 per cent are classed as being at ‘moderate risk’ of experiencing problems with gambling that could lead to negative consequences. Due to limitations in how this data is collated, it is likely these estimates are conservative, and may not capture some vulnerable population groups such as homeless people and students.
 

3.3  In 2021 Public Health England published a comprehensive gambling-related harms evidence review. This research shows that gambling harms are not equally distributed across England and that certain areas experience higher rates of harmful gambling, with the North West and North East having the highest prevalence of at-risk gamblers, while the South West has the lowest prevalence.
 

3.4  Analysis by Public Health England in 2021 suggested that the highest rates of gambling participation are among people who have higher academic qualifications, people who are employed and among relatively less deprived groups. However, the socio-demographic profile of gamblers appears to change as gambling risk increases, with those who are unemployed and living in more deprived areas more likely to participate in harmful gambling. This suggests harmful gambling is linked to wider socio-economic inequalities.
 

3.5  Many councils use insight on gambling harms to inform their statement of principles[1] and local area profiles[2]. For example, in 2015-6, Geofutures’ Gambling and Place Research Hub undertook research for Westminster and Manchester City Councils, part funded by the LGA, to explore the concept of area vulnerability to gambling related harm. The first phase of the research involved a detailed literature review aimed at identifying which groups in society are vulnerable to gambling related harm.
 

3.6  Geofutures then collected local level data to show where people with these characteristics might be. This was combined into a single risk index and mapping tool which can be used to identify local hotspots at greater risk of gambling related harm.
 

3.7  In 2022, Westminster Council revised the gambling vulnerability index devised by Geofutures to take account of new findings and more recent data on the resident population and services within the city that may indicate at risk groups. These findings are detailed within the council’s Local Area Profile. This allows the council to consider the impact a new gambling premises may have on an area when making a licensing decision.
 

3.8  There have been occasions where councils have tried to use these profiles and policies to prevent new premises from opening in areas that might be at a greater risk of gambling harm. No matter how robust a councils local area profile or licensing policy is, it is extremely difficult to use these to prevent a new premises from opening in inappropriate areas. Consequently, the LGA believes that there should be times when the aim to permit, as set out in the Gambling Act 2005, does not apply.
 

3.9  The LGA has encouraged councils to adopt a whole-council approach to tackling gambling harms. Whilst councils are not directly responsible for treatment of harmful gambling, there are a range of ways in which different services can seek to support local residents and families who are affected by it.

 

3.10          District and unitary (licensing) authorities have a statutory role in regulating local gambling premises and possess various tools to try to prevent gambling related harm occurring in premises. Planning teams may also be able to play a role, through deciding whether or not to grant planning permission to new gambling premises and making reference to gambling in the council’s local plan. Other council service areas come into contact with, and provide support to, people experiencing or impacted by harmful gambling. This includes children’s and adults’ social care; family services; treatment services; homelessness and wider housing services, and financial inclusion services.

 

3.11          The LGA has encouraged councils to ensure that frontline staff are provided with training so they recognise potential cases of harmful gambling and signpost people to support, as well as capturing data on the prevalence of harmful gambling locally to improve services.

 

  1. What should the key priorities be in the gambling White Paper? 

4.1  The LGA submitted evidence to the Gambling Act Review in March 20221. Our key priorities for the review are focused on reviewing the aim to permit and increasing the powers licensing authorities have to determine whether and where gambling premises can open in their local areas. 

4.2  Betting shop clustering, and more recently clustering of bingo halls and adult gaming centres on the high street, have been a significant concern for councils and the public. Clustering is enabled by the statutory aim to permit within the Gambling Act. It has had an adverse impact on the communities and areas where premises have become clustered. Evidence shows that clusters are typically located in more deprived areas, where the harm from problem gambling may be exacerbated.

4.3  We believe that councils do not have the full powers that they need to effectively manage local gambling premises and would welcome more flexibility to allow local democratically elected councillors to control the number of gambling premises, if such decisions can be shown to be in the interests of the local economy and community.

4.4  The LGA has called for additional powers to restrict the opening of new gambling premises in areas where there are already clusters, or where for other reasons – for example the presence of treatment centres, or schools – it may not be appropriate to open a gambling venue.  While existing tools such as local statements of principles can help to manage local gambling premises, it can be difficult and open to legal challenge to use them to limit premises numbers. We encourage the review to bring forward a new legal power, whether through a cumulative impact assessment or other tool, that in specific circumstances can act as a break on the statutory aim to permit to best meet the needs of communities. 

4.5  Local authority licensing teams play a key role in regulating land-based gambling premises. However, licensing fees for gambling premises have not been increased since 2007. The LGA is calling for councils to be able to set licensing fees locally. We also support the introduction of a mandatory levy on gambling firms, based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, to help fund a significant expansion of treatment and support for those experiencing gambling related harm throughout the country.

4.6  Whilst councils do not have regulatory responsibility for remote gambling, they are very concerned that the current system of online protections is not sufficiently effective at preventing gambling harm, and that children and young people are being exposed to gambling in new ways, such as through in-game purchases, which fall outside of regulation. We would welcome any action the Review takes to address this. 

5        How broadly should the term, ‘gambling', be drawn? 
 

5.1  We are not experts on this issue. However, our members have expressed concerns about the fine line that exists between gaming and gambling, such as loot-boxes in video games. We welcome the Committee’s focus on this issue and will be interested in the findings of this inquiry.

6        Is it possible for a regulator to stay abreast of innovation in the online sphere? 
 

6.1  Gambling regulation needs to be flexible enough to respond to emerging technology and new forms of online gambling, such as young people’s exposure to loot-boxes.

 

6.2  There needs to be a mechanism for regulation to quickly respond to new types of gambling in order to protect children and vulnerable people from harm. As we outlined in our evidence to the Gambling Act Review, given the first review has taken place some fifteen years after the Act was first passed, it is not clear that we have mechanisms in place to respond as quickly as needed. We hope that the Gambling Act Review will address this.
 

 


[1] A council’s statement of principles provides a vision for the local area and a statement of intent that guides practice, and councils must have regard to their statement when carrying out their licensing functions.

[2] A local area profile sets out what an area is like, what risks this might pose to the licensing objectives, and what the implications of this are for the licensing authority and operators. Although there is no mandatory requirement to do this, the LGA encourages all its members to do so as a matter of best practice.