Wednesday the 8th was the GambleAware Annual Conference 2021, held in the King’s Fund, London. The event was a great opportunity to catch-up with colleagues from a wide range of organisations, and gain insights from informative speakers. With presenters ranging from: academics presenting their research, people sharing their lived experience of gambling harms, to the head of the Gambling Commission, the event brought together stakeholders from across the spectrum, all united by an interest in reducing gambling harms.  

Of particular note was the appearance of Chris Philp MP, the recently appointed Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy. The Minister made a welcome announcement of his approach to gambling policy, calling for: affordability checks, a single-customer view of information sharing across operators to better identify problem gambling, and the development of a data repository, to improve the quality of data available to the commission, to government, and researchers and clinical experts. Within this he emphasised that regulators must have the power and resources needed to regulate the gambling industry, including the ability to requisition and analyse bulk account level data. We are pleased to see the proposal of these policies that align with our asks, as well as the Minister describing gambling harms as a public health issue, which we have a moral obligation to act on.  

However, it appears we will have to wait until the publication of the Gambling Act Review white paper for greater specifics on these policies, and whether other policies such as a mandatory levy will be included. The question of when this white paper will actually be released is a separate question; the Minister said the paper can be expected sometime in the coming months - which does not exactly inspire confidence in a prompt arrival in the New Year. Indeed, the Guardian has since reported that the paper is now to be delayed until the Spring. We urge the government to move quickly — policies to address the intolerable level of gambling related harms must come urgently, and not be further delayed. 

After hearing from the Minister, Andrew Rhodes, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, sought to emphasise the scale of the gambling industry, that it is roughly the same size as the agriculture industry, and that UK customers lose £450 a second to gambling. On this, he noted that the gambling industry is 800x the size of the regulator, and so needs to play a role in alleviating harms, as well as sharing data with the regulator. He also spoke on the significant grey areas in the modern gambling space, that lots of gambling products operate like gambling, but are not classified as such, while other gambling products are intentionally designed to appear not like gambling, such as products framed as ‘investing’ platforms, like the now suspended Football Index. We are pleased to see these concerns about both the gamification of gambling, and the gamblification of gaming be raised, which we have campaigned for in our work on loot boxes and online harms. We will also seek to raise these concerns in our work on the Online Safety Bill.  

We were also glad to see Rhodes emphasise that the majority of people experience harm at a lower level, and that policy need to catch and support people before they fall too far. This is crucial to an effective whole-population approach, that is proactive in protecting all gamblers, rather than only those already suffering from problem gambling.  

Thank you to GambleAware for a well organised and comprehensive event, reminding us of the centrality of collaboration in achieving effective outcomes - in doing so reaffirming the mission of the Gambling Health Alliance to bring together diverse expertise and perspectives.  

A recording of the event is available here