Thank you for contacting me about gambling regulation and advertising.
I recognise that gambling is for many people an enjoyable pastime, but equally that for many people it can become a serious problem. While we all want a healthy gambling industry that makes an important contribution to the economy, we must also do everything we can to protect those that use it from harm.
Operators providing gambling facilities to customers in Great Britain must be licensed by the Gambling Commission and comply with the conditions of their operating licences. In recent years, the Gambling Commission has also introduced a number of licence conditions specifically in relation to online gambling to ensure the protection of children and vulnerable people. In May 2019, the Gambling Commission introduced new age and identity verification rules to ensure operators verify customers’ age and identity details quickly and robustly. Furthermore, in 2020, the Government and Commission strengthened these protections further, including a ban on credit card gambling, making participation in the self-exclusion scheme GAMSTOP mandatory for online operators, as well as issuing new guidance for operators to address the potential for some customers to be at heightened risk during the Covid-19 period. For further information on GAMSTOP, please search: https://www.gamstop.co.uk/.
Furthermore, I am delighted that the Government recognises that it is increasingly apparent that the Gambling Act 2005 is an analogue law in a digital age. In December 2020, the Culture Secretary announced the launch of a major and wide-ranging review into the Act to ensure our gambling laws are fit for purpose, as committed to in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. This review will examine online restrictions, marketing and the powers of the Gambling Commission. Furthermore, specifically in regard to online gambling, protections for online gamblers like stake and spend limits, advertising and promotional offers and whether extra protections for young adults are needed will also all be explored.
Gambling Advertisements: I very much share your concern about the increased risks posed by gambling during the coronavirus pandemic. The Government and the Gambling Commission have been clear that gambling operators must act responsibly during the Covid-19 period and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has warned that firms must not look to exploit the situation in their adverts or marketing.
I am pleased with the steps gambling regulators have taken to prevent companies from taking advantage of the current situation. In May 2020, the Gambling Commission updated its guidance for operators to increase protections for those who may be at heightened risk of gambling harm. This includes directing operators to monitor customer behaviour more closely to identify signs of potential harm and banning mechanisms by which customers could cancel requests to withdraw money from their account. I therefore welcome the fact that survey data published by the Commission in January indicated that 86 per cent of those who gamble did so the same amount or less during the pandemic than they had previously.
It remains the case that gambling advertising is subject to strict controls set out in the advertising codes of practice issued by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice and the Committee of Advertising Practice. Rules on content mean that these adverts must never seek to exploit or appeal to children or vulnerable people, and rules on placement mean that they must never be targeted at these groups. Both the Advertising Standards Authority and the Gambling Commission can take action where gambling advertising is found to be in breach of these rules.
ASA Consultation: I am aware that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has recently concluded a consultation on proposed changes to the advertising codes aimed at further restricting the potential for gambling adverts to appeal to children or vulnerable people. I am pleased that this issue is being given the attention it deserves, and I look forward to reading the full response when it is made available.
Gambling Firms Sponsoring Sport: I recognise the challenges of problem gambling and the hardship it can present. The Call for Evidence, as part of the Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005, included questions on the benefits or harms of allowing operators to advertise and engage in sponsorship arrangements across sports, esports and other areas. I have been informed that the Government intend to set out conclusions, including any proposals for change, in a white paper later this year.
Gambling Commission Affordability Checks: I appreciate your concern with the impact of the Gambling Commission’s consultation, which has now closed, specifically in regard to affordability checks. I want to stress that the proposals focus on more prescriptive requirements for operators to identify and intervene with customers who may be at risk of harm. This includes a specific process for assessing affordability and particular consideration will be given to the spending/loss threshold at which it might be proportionate to require operators to complete affordability checks.
Ahead of a full response over the summer, the Gambling Commission has recently published an update on the consultation which can be found by searching: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news/article/update-on-remote-cus…
Sports Betting: I appreciate your concern that skilled betting will be considered alongside non-skilled betting, such as slot machines and bingo, under the Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005. This review will examine protections for online gamblers (including stake and spend limits), advertising and promotional offers, and whether extra protections for young adults are needed. I do, however, understand that the Government is aware that online gambling on slots, casinos or bingo games is associated with a higher rate of problem gambling (9.2 per cent) compared to online betting with a bookmaker (2.5 per cent). Furthermore, I have been assured that the review aims to make certain that the Gambling Act is fit for the digital age, striking the right balance between protecting vulnerable people from gambling related harm, while also respecting the freedom of adults to choose how they spend their money and leisure time.
For further information on the review, please search: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-the-gambling-act-2….
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP