Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has today (24 July 2012) published a report on the impact of the Gambling Act 2005. The report entitled ‘The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking?’ follows two submissions of evidence by CARE to the Select Committee regarding our concerns.
CARE’s consultant for remote gambling and child internet safety, Lauri Moyle, joined fellow representatives from churches and charities concerned with problem gambling in giving oral evidence to the Select Committee in autumn last year. He emphasised the need for Government to make progress in regulating remote gambling (also known as internet gambling) and pointed out inconsistencies in the way the current system operates.
The report recommends that Government standardises the process of self-exclusion (the process whereby problem gamblers are able to ask gambling companies not to serve them) for terrestrial gambling (that is gambling that is not on the internet) in the UK so that people who have trouble with gambling don’t have to go into every betting shop, bingo hall and slot machine arcade on their high street and request exclusion from each of those venues individually. CARE strongly supports this proposal, but deeply regrets that the report made no such recommendation for remote gambling.
CARE’s Director of Parliamentary Affairs, Dr Daniel Boucher, expressed his disappointment that the report’s recommendations on self-exclusion don’t go far enough: “It seems rather inconsistent that whilst the Committee recommends the introduction of a national system to enable people dealing with a gambling addiction to self-exclude themselves from terrestrial gambling venues, which we welcome, it does not extend this to include remote gambling. Problem gamblers are just as, if not more likely to access gambling online. Moreover, the sheer number of gambling websites which are easily accessible to UK citizens is such that it requires extreme determination to opt-out of each individual website, illustrating the urgent need for the self-exclusion proposal to cover this sector of the gambling industry too.”
In giving evidence to the select committee, Lauri Moyle shared the story of a woman who contacted him to explain the difficulties of trying to overcome problem gambling online. Anne* is no stranger to the serious effects gambling can have on an addict’s life, tragically including suicide attempts. Anne relayed the difficulties of trying to self-exclude from every gambling website and how pestered she felt by the questions asked during the process and the length of each ordeal. This process sent Anne back into another cycle of gambling and regret. Perversely, a registered account is required in the first place in order to self-exclude. This makes problem gamblers vulnerable in the knowledge that they can always find a new website to gamble on.
Anne asked CARE and the coalition of Christian organisations partnered on gambling to take action on the difficulties facing gamblers wishing to self exclude. Sadly this report lets her down, presenting a disappointing and inconsistent message on this issue, just as it also does on the regulatory nature of gambling across the EU.
UK Remote Gambling and the Gambling Commission
The other problem with the report relates to who regulates and therefore ensures good standards are kept to protect vulnerable people in the UK from the adverse effects of remote gambling. At the moment the UK Gambling Commission grants licenses to remote gambling firms that are based in the UK. There are many more that operate out of EU member states and white listed jurisdictions – those that are deemed by the UK Government to be trusted as they have similar regulatory regimes as the UK – that are allowed to sell their services here without applying for a license from the UK Gambling Commission and therefore do not have to adhere to the UK’s code of conduct.
Anne found this out the hard way when she tried to negotiate the complaints process of an Alderney-based website. It would have been easier for her to make a complaint had the website been UK based as it would have had to follow the standard process of the UK gambling commission.
The Government has said websites that offer their services to UK citizens should have to get a license from the UK Gambling Commission. This would standardise minimum expectations that UK citizens should be able to assume are in place. CARE very much supports this policy. One way in which the Government is beginning to do this is by taxing gambling at the source of the custom (in the UK) rather than where the company is based.
However, today’s report recommends that they should make good on their outstanding commitments in this regard by handing out the responsibility for actually regulating websites to the commissions of the countries in which the websites are based. This would effectively make them agents of the UK Gambling Commission, whose role it would then be to decide which jurisdictions have appropriately robust regulations in place. In some senses they may be comparable in quality to UK standards but they would certainly not be the same. Essentially this is the same system that we have now.
CARE is concerned that this will mean vulnerable people in the UK will continue to be exposed to remote gambling websites which have not been properly vetted according to the standards which we expect the UK Gambling Commission to use when vetting British gambling firms. This is not good enough when we know that problem gambling is on the increase and there are around 450,000 people in the UK, like Anne, struggling with an addiction that can cripple a person’s life, even to the point of suicide.
*Anne’s name has been changed to protect her identity
 A statement by the Government Minister with responsibility for gambling John Penrose MP can be accessed here http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/ministers_speeches/8293.aspx
 The UK gambling prevalence survey 2010 which came out in 2011 shows a 0.9% problem gambling rate in the population. It can be accessed here: http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/research__consultations/research/bgps/bgps_2010.aspx