It seems that Britain is a nation of gamblers. As many as 70 per cent
of us will venture into a casino, have a flutter at the bookies, chance
the lottery or play the 10p arcade games every year. It is the
Government’s responsibility to ensure that we have fair, enforceable
and protective regulation at every level so we safeguard those that
move from seeing gambling as entertainment (but recognise they are
likely to lose) to becoming addicted (believing they are likely to
win). Yet with 15 amendments made to the Gambling Act even before it came into
force on the 1st of September, we are right to question whether this
regulator has the teeth to manage new types of gambling such as
internet gaming, which, under new provisions introduced by the Act,
will increasingly be seen advertised on our television screens.
Indeed internet gambling is likely to feature prominently in the
Gambling Commission’s forthcoming review of problem gambling in Britain
(the “Prevalence Report”). The new Act introduced robust laws regarding
internet gambling and also approved a long list of countries deemed to
share these new standards. In reality, rules in some of these countries
are more relaxed – requiring no formal age verification of the user
other than a tick in an on screen box. Consequently, no online gaming
company is registered in the UK and many others who are now permitted
to advertise here, have relocated in order to take advantage of far
less stringent laws elsewhere.
The Act also does nothing to address the use of credit cards for internet gambling. By only permitting the use of debit cards, for example, users could only gamble with money in their bank account rather than with borrowed funds. This rule is already applied successfully in casinos, and although more difficult to enforce online, this is something that should at least be examined for internet gaming.
Another area likely to be covered in The Prevalence Report, is the popularity of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). These ‘electronic roulette wheels’ are a fairly recent invention and are predominantly found in high street bookies. A user is able bet up to a maximum amount of £100 on each spin of the wheel which takes place every 20 seconds. Bookmakers concede that profits from these machines now match profits made over the counter from traditional betting. These machines provide the Treasury with around £150m a year in taxes. Perhaps it is time to take stock of their impact.
Technology is clearly influencing the types of gambling available. We are, for example, already seeing electronic Bingo and roulette games being sent straight to children’s mobile phones. It will be a challenge for the Gambling Commission to ensure that regulation is able to keep up.
There is no doubt that the Gambling Commission is a more powerful regulator than its predecessor, the Gaming Board, but if Britain wants to be the regulatory beacon of socially responsible gambling as the Government promised, there is still much work to be done.