Michael Dugher is the CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.
Almost exactly one year ago to the day, the Conservatives launched their manifesto ahead of the 2019 general election. Amid growing all-party concerns that it was time to make our gambling laws fit for purpose, it contained within it an important commitment to review the Gambling Act. So it’s appropriate and welcome that within a year ministers are marking “Safer Gambling Week” and preparing to launch this major review.
A year ago also saw the creation of the Betting and Gaming Council, the standards body representing most of the regulated industry. It was about uniting the industry, but also about the industry getting its act together ahead of the review.
In the year that’s followed, I think the Government and the sector deserve more than a little credit for also getting on with making important changes and not simply waiting for the review.
Given the manifesto talked about “a particular focus on tackling issues around loot boxes and credit card misuse”, it is right that ministers are already looking at changes by consulting over loot boxes and that the Government banned gambling online with a credit card. You’ve never been able to gamble with a credit card in a betting shop so, given ministers have rightly signalled their intention to stop under-18s from betting on the Lottery, I hope they also extend the credit card ban to gambling with the National Lottery. Let’s have one rule for all.
Equally, whilst the BGC wholeheartedly supports the review, we’ve not been standing idly by waiting for ministers to fire the starting gun on it. Since being established a year ago, we have introduced a number of measures aimed at improving standards in our industry.
These have included cooling off periods on gaming machines, actively encouraging deposit limits and introducing new ID and age verification checks, which have led to the closing down of thousands of accounts.
According to Enders Analysis, the “whistle to whistle” ban on TV betting commercials during live sports programmes – introduced by BGC members last year – has led to a 97 per cent reduction in the number of betting adverts seen by children at those times.
We responded to the first Covid lockdown by drawing up a 10-pledge action plan, setting out the standards expected of our members during the crisis. I’m delighted that BGC has re-affirmed its commitment to it during the latest round of Government-imposed restrictions. These include increasing safer gambling messages and stepping up interventions to customers. We also now ensure that at least 20 per cent of all advertising on broadcast from a BGC member will be safer gambling messages in future.
During the first lockdown, with live sport cancelled, we did our bit to lift the nation’s spirits – and raise millions for charity – by organising betting on the “virtual Grand National”, a unique event watched by five million people live on ITV and millions of people enjoying a flutter. BGC members agreed to donate all of their profits from the day to good causes, raising an incredible £2.9 million for NHS Charities Together in recognition of health service workers’ extraordinary efforts during the pandemic.
Our venues also stepped up to the plate by doing their bit for the national effort. Our member companies like Rank, which owns Grosvenor casinos and Mecca Bingo, donated food to the homeless and free meals to key workers. GVC (now Entain, which owns Ladbrokes and Coral) allowed a greyhound track to be used for NHC Covid testing, as did Bet365 at Stoke FC’s stadium.
In May, we announced that £10 million would be made available for a national education programme, delivered by YGAM and GamCare, to teach every 11 to 19-year-old in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to help them understand the potential risks associated with betting. The following month, the five largest BGC members confirmed that they would provide an additional £100 million for research, education and treatment of problem gambling, a move which was welcomed by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Nigel Huddleston, the Minister for Sports.
Tough new measures to further prevent under-18s from viewing betting ads online have also been introduced by the BGC – yet more evidence of our zero tolerance approach to gambling by children.
A new code of conduct on game design will lead to slower spin speeds, the banning of several features which have caused concern and better access to safer gambling information. And working with the Gambling Commission, we have introduced stricter rules on the use of VIP schemes which have already seen the numbers enrolled in them reduced by 70 per cent.
The past year has brought extraordinary challenges for everyone – not least our betting shop and casino members who have been sadly forced to close their doors – but we have never lost sight of our top priority, which is to raise standards. When we regularly meet ministers like Oliver Dowden and Huddleston, they rightly press upon the industry the need to keep stepping up our work on safer gambling.
That’s why Safer Gambling Week is so important. This is a cross-industry initiative to highlight the issue and showcase the wide range of support and advice that is out there to help people.
I see the Government’s review of gambling as a welcome opportunity to drive further change in our industry, ensuring a safe and enjoyable environment for the 30 million people who enjoy an occasional flutter, while also targeting help for what is estimated to be the 0.7 per cent of people who are problem gamblers. One problem gambler is one too many, so I hope the review will really focus in on how we target help for the vulnerable and those most at risk.
Conservatives, perhaps more than most (and I say that as an ex-Labour politician), are aware of the dangers of “over-regulation”, whereby governments intervene in markets with well-meaning changes that end up damaging business, employment and indeed the customer experience.
That’s why it is right that ministers will have a “call for evidence”. We must have an evidence-led approach so that changes, for example, don’t drive customers to the unregulated black market online where there are no standards or protections. And we don’t want to pull the rug from under sports like racing, rugby league and football that rely on support from the betting industry for their very survival.
Equally, Conservatives have also tried to strike a balance between protecting individuals, whilst at the same time allowing individuals to spend the money they’ve earned in ways that they choose.
Whatever our different political perspectives or our views on gambling, we all agree that change is necessary. It’s now about getting it right. A year after that manifesto commitment to review gambling was launched, it’s good that ministers are preparing to get on with it and for that they have our full support.