Time to act to reduce gambling-related harm, says Lords report


A third of a million people in the UK are problem gamblers. 55,000 of them are children. On average a problem gambler commits suicide every day.

For each problem gambler six other people, some two million people, suffer harm such as the breakup of families, crime, loss of employment, loss of homes and, ultimately, loss of life.

The gambling industry spends £1.5 billion a year on advertising, and 60% of its profits come from the 5% who are already problem gamblers, or are at risk of becoming so.

The liberalisation of gambling heralded in by the Gambling Act 2005, the universal adoption of smart phones, and the ingenious and often unscrupulous exploitation of soft-touch regulation by gambling operators has created a perfect storm of addictive 24/7 gambling.

It is against this background that the House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee’s publishes its report, Gambling Harm – Time for Action.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Most people who gamble, enjoy it safely. However, gambling related-harm has made the lives of two million people miserable. It leads to hundreds of people each year taking their own lives, leaving families and friends devastated.

“The behaviour of some gambling operators, where vulnerable people were targeted with inducements to continue gambling when the operators knew they could not afford to, shocked the Committee.

“Urgent action by the Government is required. Lax regulation of the gambling industry must be replaced by a more robust and focussed regime which prioritises the welfare of gamblers ahead of industry profits.

“Addiction is a health problem which should be treated by the NHS and paid for by gambling industry profits. The Government must impose a mandatory levy on the industry. The more harmful a gambling product is, the higher the levy the operator should pay.

“Only time will tell if the harm caused by gambling has been exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown.

“Our report makes some 66 recommendations which we believe will begin to the address this huge problem.”

The Committee’s key recommendations include:

  • The gambling industry offers a variety of products to consumers, including some which can be highly addictive. The Gambling Commission should create a system for testing all new games against a series of harm indicators, including their addictiveness and whether they will appeal to children. A game which scores too highly on the harm indicators must not be approved.
  • The equalisation of speed of play and spin, so that no game can be played quicker online than in a casino, bookmaker or bingo hall.
  • The Gambling Commission must explain the minimum steps which operators should take when considering customer affordability, and make clear that it is for the operator to take the steps which will enable them to identify customers who are betting more than they can afford.
  • The creation of a statutory independent Gambling Ombudsman Service, modelled on the Financial Ombudsman Service, to settle disputes between gambling operators and gamblers.
  • The Government must act immediately to bring loot boxes within the remit of gambling legislation and regulation.
  • Gambling operators should no longer be allowed to advertise on the shirts of sports teams or any other visible part of their kit. There should also be no gambling advertising in or near any sports grounds or sports venues.
  • Problem gambling is a common mental health disorder, and the NHS has the same duty to treat it as to treat any other disorder. Last year the NHS promised to open 15 new clinics. It should do this before 2023 and establish a comparable number within the following few years.