Earlier this month we attended the Gambling Reform Rally organised by the Gambling Related Harm APPG and Peers for Gambling Reform, at Church House, Westminster. The event brought together stakeholders from across the gambling space, including: parliamentarians, gambling charities, people with lived experience, and health professionals, among others. It was particularly pleasing to see such a high turnout, with not a seat spare, and many more standing at the back of the room.
Shared among all speakers was a feeling that change was urgently needed, that the level of harm was unacceptable and regulation not fit for purpose. Occurring days after the conclusion of the inquiry into the death of Jack Ritchie, and with the Gambling White Paper expected to arrive imminently, there was a tangible sense that we were approaching a landmark moment for gambling reform.
With the imminent Gambling White Paper (currently expected to arrive in May), all eyes were on Chris Philp MP, for the latest developments. The Minister spoke on the ‘long overdue’ need for ‘significant reform’, citing the rise of online gambling since the 2005 Act, and the intolerable number of gambling-related suicides each year. He also spoke on how it was unacceptable for people to be able to lose vast sums of money without any preventative measures, noting the recent £9.4 million fine of 888 for allowing an NHS worker to set a deposit cap at £1,300 a month, over 90% of their monthly income.
Such comments offered a promising sign that the Minister was aware of the severity of harm and, was invested in creating meaningful change. However, in terms of actual information on what policies we can expect in the upcoming Gambling Act Review, there was limited new information. As previously mentioned in his speech at the GambleAware conference last year, the Minister reiterated the need for data sharing with the regulator, and a Single Customer View across operators, accompanied with affordability checks.
The Minister emphasised the need for proportionate approach, that it wouldn’t be appropriate to have intrusive checks for someone who is betting relatively small amounts of money on the Grand National, but that ‘there are definitely levels of more significant gambling losses where proper checks should be done’. The key question here is what the Minister, and the upcoming White Paper, define as ‘relatively small amounts of money’ and ‘more significant gambling losses’.
The Minister has previously described affordability checks for customers spending £100 as likely to be ‘unwelcome, disruptive and disproportionate’, even though a soft cap at this level is evidence-based and recommended by the Gambling Related Harm APPG as a ‘proportionate’ measure. What is deemed ‘proportionate’ is clearly a contested notion even among advocates for reform, and we hope the Minister’s understanding of the term is supported by robust data.
Finally, it was good to see the Minister state that ‘Everyone is at risk of developing a gambling addiction’ and that prevention is better than cure – and for him to recognise the need for controls that protect everyone who chooses to gamble. Closing his speech, he stated ‘Change is needed, and change is coming’ – we hope the change comes imminently and, is comprehensive enough to make a real impact.