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Brigid Simmonds OBE is chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.

What voters think is vital to any Government or political party – quite simply, they won’t get elected, or win public support for a policy position, if they turn a deaf ear to ordinary people’s views.

So, as ministers continue their review of the Gambling Act 2005, it’s important for them to get a handle on what the British public actually thinks about betting. That’s why we at the Betting and Gaming Council commissioned 20 focus groups, plus a YouGov poll, to explore this important area. Those focus groups were mainly held in so-called “Red Wall” areas, parts of the North and Midlands which were formerly Labour heartlands but which largely fell to the Conservatives in 2019.

The call for evidence for the gambling review closes at the end of this month, and the Government has been clear that it wants the process to be evidence-led. What better way to ensure it is than by finding out what the general public thinks?

I am well aware that betting can divide opinion. For the 30 million people who enjoy a flutter, it is a leisure activity which is integral to British culture and society just as going to the pub is important too. This message really came across in the focus groups. As someone with a background in running the British Beer & Pub Association, sports governance and a keen sports fan, I could fully understand the woman in Birmingham who said: “All the women in my family we always go to Ladies Day. It’s a great day. People go for serious money. We put like £5 each on each race. We go with our bottles of Prosecco – all the girls. All our nans, aunties, cousins.”

As we begin to emerge from lockdown, it’s also important to remember the huge economic contribution our industry makes. Hopefully, betting shops will be able to safely re-open along with other non-essential retail on April 12. This won’t just be a boost for their employees and customers, but also for the wider economy, as research shows that 89 per cent of betting shop customers go on to visit other high street shops. Casinos are due to re-open on May 17 and they will over time play their part in the recovery of the tourism sector – something of real importance to me as a Director of the Tourism Alliance. 

A Gambling Commission consultation underway at the moment could result in all punters having to provide payslips and bank statements if they are deemed to be spending too much on betting. When this was explained to our focus groups, the response was one of shock and disbelief. This view was backed up by our YouGov poll, which found that 51 per cent of voters do not believe that politicians should set limits on how much they can bet, with only 27 per cent believing they should.

Affordability checks are good, but modern technology means that they can be targeted at customers displaying signs of harm, allowing interventions to be made. Our members also encourage their customers to set their own deposit limits, something which I fully support.

In the Red Wall, this whole issue tied in with their view that a culture war is being waged against their way of life, and that the Government is embarking on a post-Covid “mission creep”. There was clearly a belief that politicians are attempting to move further into deciding what they can and cannot do with their lives. The Conservative Party should bear in mind that there is something, well, un-Conservative about the state trying to play an ever larger role in people’s activities.

YouGov also found that 59 per cent of voters believe that if too many limits are placed on their ability to bet, people will shift to the unlicensed and growing black market. Given that these illegal operators have none of the safer gambling measures which are commonplace in the regulated sector – and also pay no tax – this is something the Government needs to be aware of.

There were lessons for our industry in the focus groups as well, with many of those who took part believing it is completely unregulated, particularly the online sector. This is, of course, untrue. Betting and gaming in the UK is among the most highly-regulated in the world.

That is not to say that more change isn’t needed – I would personally support that – but ministers need to make sure they get them right. Yes, there is much more that the industry can and will do, but at the end of the day, we want customers to bet in a UK regulated market which abides by the rules, with a clear emphasis on safer gambling.

The gambling review continue after the call for evidence ends on March 31, giving ministers – and the industry – plenty of opportunity to reflect on what our focus groups and polling found. We must all grasp it with both hands.