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Gambling Minister, Paul Scully's, speech at the Betting and Gaming Council Annual General Meeting ahead of the forthcoming publication of the Gambling Act Review. The speech published on gov.uk, Mr Scully said:
Today, I want to recognise the contributions BGC members make to our national economy, but also talk about our reforms to make sure our gambling regulation suitably protects consumers from harm in the digital age.
As you all know, our Gambling Act Review is a priority for the department, and our white paper will set out our vision for the sector in the coming weeks.
In my role as Minister of London, I am fully aware how important entertainment sectors are in boosting the economy of a local area, by providing jobs and attracting tourism.
I also know how online businesses provide high skill tech jobs across the country. BGC members’ ongoing commitment to apprenticeships is also welcome, and I can only encourage that to continue.
Michael has already spoken about the recent report from EY which quantified some of these benefits, as well as the benefits to the economy and the exchequer more broadly. And it’s not always just in revenue terms.
The millions of customers who engage with your businesses every month are for the most part choosing to spend their money on a leisure product they enjoy, and the majority suffer no ill effect. It’s important not to discount the social and entertainment benefits to customers when we think about gambling policy.
But part of making sure the sector can flourish is making sure that we have the right regulation that protects people from harm.
There are, to be blunt, still too many failings happening.
Some customers continue to slip through protections and are allowed or even encouraged to spend too much. Some go on to suffer real and serious harm, including taking their own life in extreme cases.
I commend the actions you have been taking to address this risk, and of course the ASA and Gambling Commission have been working hard to continuously improve regulation.
Our Act review, however, is a real opportunity to make sure we have the balance right.
To make sure we respect people’s choice to gamble and the enjoyment they get from it. But also to follow the evidence and address the products and practices which increase the risk of harm.
In short, it’s an opportunity to build this county’s status as a world leader in gambling policy.
I know you’ve all been engaged since the Call for Evidence launched and are patiently - or impatiently - awaiting the white paper.
I also recognise regulatory certainty is important for your businesses. We do want to have the white paper out in the next few weeks to give you that solid foundation, and so we can get on with implementing reforms.
I want to be clear though, that the white paper is not the final word on gambling reform. It will be followed by consultations led by both DCMS and the Gambling Commission. I want the industry to stay engaged as policies are refined, finalised and implemented.
In particular, I know one policy you’ll want to hear more on is so-called affordability checks for online customers.
I’m not going to preempt the details of the white paper, but there are a few things I can stay at this stage.
The first is that ‘affordability checks’ is the wrong title for the protections we’re envisaging. That word suggests that the government or Gambling Commission are going to set rules on how much people can ‘afford’ to gamble.
Let me be really clear here, it is not the role of government or the gambling commission to tell people how much of their salary they are “allowed to” spend on gambling.
A one size fits all approach is not the intention here. It may be more accurate to call them ‘financial risk’ checks - checking that a higher than usual level of spend is not itself an indicator of harm.
The Commission has already identified key areas of concern, for example particularly vulnerable customers who can be harmed by even quite small losses - perhaps they have been declared bankrupt.
Alongside that is high spending binge behaviour with the potential for lasting financial harm, and high sustained losses over a longer period of time.
I also think ‘financial risk’ is a more appropriate term as a consideration of financial circumstances can only ever reveal that one type of risk - financial.
I’ve heard from operators about the hundreds of markers of harm which are continuously monitored for every customer. While we all know loss and debt is often a major harm for people who are in the grip of a gambling problem, it’s not the only element.
I don’t think we would be providing better protections to consumers by moving to a black and white world where only financial indicators are considered. It is essential that operators use all the information they have on customers and their wider risk profile to inform the right interventions.
I also want to say a little about how this and other measures will be implemented after the white paper.
I’ve already said that the white paper will be followed by consultations on details. When it comes to financial risk checks, the coming months will provide the opportunity to nail down and test the logistics for frictionless checks, to design the necessary data safeguards, and to establish the best possible framework for identifying and acting on financial risk. I strongly encourage you all to remain involved in the discussion, and responsive to the issues.
Of course, making our regulatory and legislative framework fit for the digital age is also about looking at where regulation has become outdated - where it no longer provides the protection that was once intended.
We want to make common sense changes to update the rules, preserving safeguards that do protect against gambling harm, but replacing unnecessarily restrictive controls with ones which make things better for customers and businesses. I’ll be meeting again with some of you from the land based sector in the coming weeks to talk about these issues.
And part of the reason for getting these controls right is the economic headwinds which I know gambling businesses, particularly land based ones, are not immune from.
I am acutely aware that many of you are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, and recent increases in energy costs have hit your sectors particularly hard. I’m pleased we have the Energy Bill relief scheme, and I’m grateful to the BGC for its hard work to gather and submit the data to inform government decisions.
So, we are putting the finishing touches to our white paper, making the final decisions and preparing for publication. We’re a matter of weeks away from you all seeing it, and then we can start the process of nailing down details and implementing reforms.
As the Gambling Commission CEO said at his recent briefing for operator chief executives - the relationship between the industry and those charged with regulating it does not need to be antagonistic.
Indeed, the BGC and its members have been very helpful throughout the review in providing data and information as requested. I hope that the spirit of positive engagement can continue after the white paper.