1.1 Since the Gambling Act 2005 was launched, there have been significant changes, both in society as a whole and to the gambling sector, particularly in relation to the growth of social media and the development of digital gambling products, advertising and promotions. This review offers a timely opportunity to take stock of the many consequent harms and challenges to help inform future gambling policy. We believe that new legislation is now urgently required if the public in general, and young and vulnerable customers in particular, are to be afforded the protection they need and deserve.
1.2 The Gambling Commission’s most recent report on gambling participation confirmed that 0.7% (about 340,000 people) were classified as ‘problem gamblers’, with a further 1% (about 550,000) deemed at ‘moderate’ risk. Furthermore, the Commission’s ‘Young People and Gambling’ report stated that around 450,000 11-15 year olds were gambling every week in England and Wales, of whom 9,000 were thought likely to be ‘problem gamblers’.
1.3 Clearly, not all people who gamble do so problematically. However, formal statistics are likely to significantly underestimate the rates and impact of gambling at whatever level, given that problematic gambling is characterised by denial, secrecy, and stigma. Whilst the industry has chosen to view ‘problem gamblers’ as a pathological minority, the RGSB pointed out that ‘In too many cases, operators appear to believe that prevalence of gambling problems among their customers is less than in the population as a whole. That is, to say the least, extremely unlikely. It implies an unacceptable level of complacency.’
1.4 In the light of formal data, and wider evidence of serious and enduring gambling-related harms, it is difficult not to conclude that the Act has proved ineffective in its objective to protect children and other vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling.
1.5 The industry’s wealth and influence continue to grow, with profits currently around £14.5bn. The proposed reduction of FOBT maximum stakes, to give just one example, demonstrated its determination to challenge strenuously proposed changes to gambling legislation which might adversely affect its commercial interests. It is possible that recent announcements by some operators about increased voluntary donations and changes to sports advertising, were aimed to counteract growing public concern, and to mitigate the potential introduction of more robust regulation.
1.6 The Commission’s data confirms that public perceptions of gambling as fair and trustworthy fell once again in 2018 to 30% (down from 33% in 2017), and there has been increased, high profile media coverage of gambling-related harms recently. The Commission continues to levy multi-million pound fines to operators for non-adherence to social responsibility licencing conditions, and there was a 5000% rise in customer complaints about British betting companies over the past five years. Many of these were from customers continuing to receive bookmakers’ incentives despite strenuous requests not to be contacted. It would appear that, despite the hard work and considerable resources on the part of the Commission and numerous stakeholders, the Act has not succeeded in ensuring fairness and openness in the way the industry has conducted its business.
1.7 We agree that operators should have a legal duty of care for customers. Research such as the Product-based Harm Minimisation report has found that product characteristics are a key contributory factor to gambling-related harm; and qualitative studies, e.g. Griffiths et al, suggest that front-line staff do not consistently and/or fully implement their company’s social responsibility measures, leaving vulnerable customers without the protection they were designed to ensure.
2.1 The Institute of Public Policy Research estimated the annual excess fiscal costs for Great Britain incurred by ‘problem gamblers’ alone as being between £260m - £1.16bn, adding multiple caveats related to its calculations. Wardle et al identified over 50 different metrics of gambling-related harms, whilst stating that ‘only a few currently have the potential to contribute to a social cost of gambling-related harms’ including unemployment; bankruptcy and/or debt; homelessness; crime associated with gambling; relationship breakdown/problems; health-related problems; and suicide/suicidality.
2.2 Wardle et al also highlighted the importance of recognising ‘churn’, i.e. people moving in and out of problematic/at-risk behaviour, for example during episodes of mental ill-health: ‘The harmful effects from gambling may be short-lived but can persist, having longer-term and enduring consequences that can exacerbate existing inequalities...Such volatility reinforces arguments for targeting resources towards harm prevention to avoid escalation.’
2.3 The concept of ‘affordability’, in the context of improving customer protection may, we believe, warrant further consideration, particularly in the light of the current consultation regarding gambling with credit cards (and crypto-currencies). As a 2018 GamCare blog explained: ‘There are many ways that someone can hide, or deny to themselves, what they can ‘afford’, or afford to lose...‘affordability’ means different things to different people. It can even mean different things to the same person at different times.’
2.4 Continuing to gamble, irrespective of mounting costs, in the anticipation of wins or, at least, recouping losses can lead some customers to make stark choices: ‘I ate nothing for two days earlier in the week. If I had cashed out my winnings, instead of playing on, then I could have had food.’ Sheffield Hallam University’s research highlighted how ‘problem gamblers’ often neglect financial priorities such as rent/mortgage and bills; the GamCare blog confirms that when someone gambles with wages or benefits, essential family expenditure is often funded through increased debt via credit cards, overdrafts, formal and informal loans. This was echoed in the powerful personal experiences recounted in Citizens Advice’s ‘Out of Luck’ report.
2.5 In their study into the influence of social factors on gambling, Orford et al found a significant relationship between the income and social position of gamblers and their households, and the prevalence of gambling and problem gambling. More recently, Wardle et al explored socio-economic factors influencing gambling, confirming that the distribution of gambling machines was significantly associated with areas of socio-economic deprivation and that this distribution followed a similar pattern to other countries in the world.
2.6 The Local Government Association’s 2018 guidance for local councils cites evidence that between six and 10 people, i.e. a potential 2.5m – 4.3m people are directly affected by a single problem gambler. Sheffield Hallam University’s study provided powerful insight into the serious, multiple harms experienced by close others, including barriers to support such as stigma and shame. The authors refer to a ‘dearth of UK specific research’ in this area and we are pleased to note that this has been prioritised in the Commission’s Framework. If policy, action and related funding continue to underestimate the scale and impact of gambling on close others, families and communities will be left struggling to cope and dealing with long-term damage.
2.7 We would like to reiterate the following statement, given originally in our written evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2012: ‘The moral and practical question for legislators—which was not squarely faced when the Gambling Act was passed—is whether profit for the industry, and an increase in gambling opportunities for the consumer, are worth these human costs.’
3.1 We strongly support calls for the introduction of a mandatory levy. Whilst encouraging, the 16% increase (to £9.4m) in the industry’s voluntary contributions to GambleAware for the year to March 2018 still fell short of the £10m needed to sustain GambleAware’s activities at their current level. In its second progress report, RGSB estimated an annual £86m would be needed to achieve the Commission’s ambition for the UK to become a world leader in minimising gambling-related harm, but that even this ‘would represent only around 0.6% of the gambling industry’s gross gaming yield (when the National Lottery is included). This does not seem an unreasonable ask given the significant harm gambling causes.’ In its advice to the Commission on online gambling (February 2019), the Board also suggested that: ‘operators should dedicate as much energy and creativity to player protection as they do to their commercial activities, and should commit resources to it in sufficient quantity to reflect its importance.’
3.2 The Labour Party has recommended that funding should be diverted to Local Authorities and/or Clinical Commissioning Groups, arguing that this would help to target resources according to local need.
3.3 One international example of a mandatory levy is New Zealand’s. Set every three years, it is calculated using rates of player expenditure (losses) on each gambling subsector and of client presentations to problem gambling services attributable to each gambling subsector, reflecting money lost and associated harm.
4.1 The Gambling Commission’s Framework for Action sets out an ambitious programme of research and, with its public health focus, represents a potential step change in deepening understanding of many enduring gambling-related harms. We particularly welcome the Framework’s stated intention to achieve a greater balance of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including the participation of experts by experience. We appreciate that this is both cost-intensive and complex, but believe that it is essential for those directly affected, including close others, to be heard and understood if genuine change is to be achieved.
4.2 One of the central arguments of Wardle et al’s recent BMJ article is the need to address gambling related harm at a population level rather than continuing to focus on the relatively small number of ‘problem gamblers’. Finnish research into the relevance of the ‘Prevention Paradox’ to analysis of gambling-related harm found that the majority of gamblers were non-high time and non-high spend regular gamblers, concluding: ‘This study suggests that general gambling control policies directed at lowering time and money spend on gambling in the population (such as taxation and gambling availability control) appear warranted.’
4.3 ‘Changes in gambling behaviour over time’ is one of the Commission’s Research Programme’s themes. Findings from a Swedish longitudinal gambling study may, if adapted to the UK context, provide a helpful model for future research in this area. We find it particularly interesting that it explored generational differences by sub-dividing its adult cohort into two age groups (27-35 and 36-85 years), and compared risk factors for new and experienced gamblers.
4.4 We remain concerned about the industry’s dependence on quantitative data, and especially algorithms, on which it has continued to base many of its harm reduction interventions. In its second progress report, RGSB acknowledged that algorithms ‘mask fundamental weaknesses’ in identifying customers at risk, providing only a partial insight into gambling-related harms.
4.6 We understand that data on the ‘primary mode of problem gambling’ are now being collected from help-seekers and included in GambleAware’s collection framework. This information has cross-cutting relevance to several of the Strategy’s aims and we hope that the data will be made available in the public domain, as it is for substance misuse, to help strengthen research in this area and inform awareness-raising and public health education.
4.7 In its final report, RGSB acknowledged its relative lack of progress in widening and strengthening the research field and improving knowledge exchange: ‘The fact that GambleAware’s funding is still dependent on voluntary industry donations [continues] to deter some potential recipients of research funding and can undermine wider public confidence in gambling-related research.’ The new Strategy includes the creation of a central data repository to enable access to anonymous datasets by independent researchers and academics. We believe that it is essential to encourage fully independent research from outside the sector to complement the work funded by the industry. For example, in a recent conference presentation, Oliver Scholten (University of York) described having developed a research model using ‘distributed ledger technology and cryptocurrencies’. He concluded that this could provide ‘rich transaction information upon which reproducible, generalisable, and publicly verifiable research can be performed – an exciting prospect in this historically opaque field.’
5.1 When designing public health and awareness raising campaigns, we believe that it is important to give the public simple, unequivocal information about specific risks associated with different gambling formats, e.g. that swift, repetitive forms of gambling with few structural breaks carry more risks than do those with a lower event frequency. International approaches could usefully inform UK initiatives in this area. For example, New Zealand provides straightforward information derived from treatment data: ‘The majority of people who seek help for their gambling problems do so because of non-casino pokies...’ A similar approach is used in Australia: ‘Poker machines are programmed to pay out less than you put into them, so the odds are you will lose…The longer you play a poker machine, the more likely you are to lose all the money you have put in the machine.’
6.1 The proposed opening of a further 14 NHS gambling treatment clinics in England, and the first for young people with gambling problems, represents a significant, positive step forward. However, due to shame, denial and stigma, many people do not talk to anyone about problems they may be experiencing, and often resist seeking help until they are in serious crisis.
6.2 The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has recommended that GPs should be offered brief intervention training and ‘front line staff, including police officers, debt counsellors, the judiciary and others, should be trained to identify gambling-related harm and develop new pathways to help people out of the spiral of debt and crime that can be associated with gambling.’ The Labour Party has also called for: ‘the development of NICE guidelines for gambling disorder, and training for practitioners in IAPT services and other local addiction services, as well as GPs and other health professionals.’ Were such approaches adopted, those struggling silently may be encouraged to seek help at an earlier stage, preventing more serious harms affecting both themselves and their families.
6.3 We would like to suggest that there may be value in considering innovative approaches piloted in the substance misuse field, which could help to improving support for families and communities affected by gambling harms. In particular, ADFAM’s family recovery champions pilot project in Greenwich and Alcohol Concern’s ‘Communities Together’ pilot in Wales.
6.4 Recently published research provides a detailed review of available data on gambling-related suicide and suicidal ideation, whilst identifying the significant gaps in current knowledge and understanding of this complex issue. The report suggests the need for funding for effective, evidence-based interventions or evaluations, to include ‘complex public health interventions, education and awareness raising, harm minimisation activities and treatments.’ Commenting in the Guardian, co-author Heather Wardle said: ‘The people on the frontline of dealing with this high-risk group are the industry, who need to think about how they train staff potentially having interactions with suicidal people. They need to ensure those staff will put the wellbeing of people above profit.’
7.1 We agree with the RGSB’s statement regarding ‘an uncontrolled social experiment on today’s youth’. OFCOM confirmed that television advertising increased from 152,000 adverts in 2006 to 1.39 million in 2012, whilst the number of times a gambling advert was seen by a viewer increased from 8bn to nearly 31bn over the same period. In 2012, around 1.8bn commercial gambling advertisements were seen by 4-18 year olds in the UK. The UK’s two most expensive Google advertising keywords in 2018 were ‘Casino’ (£58.57 CPC) and Online Gambling (£25.45 CPC)
8.1 The scale and related harms linked to children and young people’s gambling are well documented and we will not reiterate evidence widely available in the public domain. We are deeply concerned that, despite the protection of young people being one of the Act’s primary objectives, the normalisation of gambling and targeting of young (including under-age) people has continued and expanded.
8.2 It is increasingly clear that the blurring of gaming and gambling is a cause for serious concern and we therefore welcome the findings and recommendations from the DCMS Immersive and Addictive Technologies Inquiry.
8.3 A voluntary trial this summer, run by the British Amusement Catering Trade Association (Bacta), banned unaccompanied under-16 year olds from using Category D machines at participating arcades. This suggests a growing recognition that, together with National Lottery draws and scratchcards, Category D machines represent an early introduction to gambling (and, potentially, problem gambling) for young people. We would support a revision to current legislation with the aim of preventing under-18 year olds from purchasing any gambling product.
8.4 The Gambling Commission’s response to advice from RGSB (2018) spoke of the vital role that can be played by parents, families and peer groups in giving young people the most effective support but that, in order to do so effectively, they also need information and support from public health bodies and other support services.
9.1 When the National Lottery was launched, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) registered its in principle opposition to ‘the promotion of a large-scale lottery by government’: ‘We are disturbed by the accelerating substitution of National Lottery funds for planned public funding of social projects. Quakers will continue to press the government to fulfil its responsibilities for social and economic welfare through normal public institutions’.
9.2 The Gambling Commission confirmed that Society Lottery sales totalled £531m in the year to September 2016 – an increase of over 100% over the previous five years. More than half (56%) was distributed between costs and prizes, 44% being returned to good causes. We share the Commission’s concerns that ‘In recent years the large Society Lottery sector has become, arguably, increasingly professionalised and commercial in feel...’ External Lottery Managers (ELMs) raised 79% of large SLs’ sales in 2016-17, and have a commercial interest in promoting revenues in ways not dissimilar to those used by mainstream gambling operators.
9.3 Large Society Lotteries are also developing increasingly sophisticated, ‘harder’ gambling products e.g. ‘five-digit short codes’ which take payments from mobile phone accounts: ‘Society Lottery short codes allow charities to capitalise on the sense of urgency created by rollovers, bonus plays and time limited opportunities to trigger additional plays from existing members and to acquire new players using posters, digital, TV and radio channels.’
9.4 Instant wins and rapid re-play, with 24/7 availability, are widely acknowledged as risk factors for problematic gambling, particularly when combined with other vulnerability factors. The Commission pinpointed the dilemma facing charities: ‘Online, in a competitive, growing instants market, it is not clear how funds for good causes can both maintain public legitimacy as a soft product and compete successfully for market share without competing more aggressively with harder gambling products.’
9.5 In July 2019, the DCMS confirmed the government’s decision to increase significantly individual per draw sales and prize limits, and annual sales limits for large SLs, whilst restating its intention to support the future expansion of the SL sector. Nevertheless, the Minster expressed concern that ‘...the regulatory framework is not currently sufficiently rigorous for societies raising funds at this scale’, and suggested that a further consultation might consider ‘more robust measures to limit the amounts spent on marketing and advertising.’
9.6 The Public Register of Licence Holders confirms that 60 Local Authorities now run their own Lotteries. Profits can be spent on ‘anything for which [they] have the power to incur expenditure, for example local community projects, arts centres or parks and leisure facilities.’ We find this deeply worrying, but perhaps not surprising given the significant cuts to local authority funding in recent years and the consequent impact on local service providers and community projects.
9.7 In April 2018, the Public Accounts Committee highlighted that amounts raised by the National Lottery for good causes fell by 15% between April 2016-17 and that, although the total increased by 2% between 2009-17, Camelot’s profits increased by 122% over the same period. The Committee urged Camelot to do more to support gambling addiction education, warning that the low stakes for the lottery and scratchcards attract many teenagers and could herald the beginning of problem gambling.
6 September 2019
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