Watch­dog ‘is fail­ing prob­lem gam­blers’

The Observer - - News - Jamie Doward

The gov­ern­ment and the gam­bling watch­dog have an “un­ac­cept­ably weak un­der­stand­ing” about the harm­ful ef­fects of gam­bling and how to tackle them, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee has warned.

A re­port from the House of Com­mons Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee of­fers a cri­tique of the fail­ures by the De­part­ment for Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport and the Gam­bling Com­mis­sion to help an es­ti­mated 395,000 prob­lem gam­blers in the UK. The Gam­bling Com­mis­sion, a non-depart­men­tal pub­lic body, took £19m in li­cence fees from gam­bling op­er­a­tors last year, less than 0.2% of the £11.3bn gam­bling yield that year.

The re­port ac­cuses the de­part­ment of be­ing “un­will­ing to ac­cept the premise that in­creas­ing the com­mis­sion’s bud­get to pre­vent harm would be prefer­able to spend­ing on treat­ing prob­lem gam­blers”.

“What has emerged in ev­i­dence is a pic­ture of a tor­pid, tooth­less reg­u­la­tor that doesn’t seem ter­ri­bly in­ter­ested in the harms it ex­ists to re­duce or the means it might use to achieve that,” said Meg Hil­lier MP, chair of the com­mit­tee.

The com­mit­tee calls for a pub­lished league ta­ble of op­er­a­tors, nam­ing and sham­ing poor per­form­ers. It said the de­part­ment must ur­gently be­gin its re­view of the Gam­bling Act.

In a state­ment, the in­dus­try’s Bet­ting and Gam­ing Coun­cil said gam­bling firms were work­ing hard to raise stan­dards: “Our in­dus­try is al­ready heav­ily reg­u­lated. We mustn’t drive cus­tomers to off­shore, black­mar­ket, il­le­gal op­er­a­tors that don’t have any of our safe­guards.”

Gam­bling with Lives, which was set up by friends and fam­ily of peo­ple who have killed them­selves be­cause of gam­bling prob­lems, wel­comed the find­ings. “This re­port clearly sets out the fail­ure of reg­u­la­tion of gam­bling op­er­a­tors who push ad­dic­tive on­line gam­bling prod­ucts to young peo­ple.”

The Tory MP James Wild, who sits on the com­mit­tee, said: “The reg­u­la­tor works at a glacial pace, has no tar­gets to re­duce lev­els of harm, and is be­hind the curve on on­line gam­ing.”

A DCMS spokes­woman said: “We have been clear that we will re­view the Gam­bling Act to en­sure it is fit for the dig­i­tal age.”

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