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UK – British MPs call for £2 limit on online slot machine games

By - 6 November 2019

The Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group has called for stake and deposits limits to be introduced on online gambling products, in its interim report into the online gambling sector.

This report follows a six-month inquiry into the harms caused by online gambling. The inquiry was launched following growing disquiet among parliamentarians, charities, academics, families and individuals, at the high levels of harm caused by online gambling, in some cases tragically leading to suicide.

The report raises concerns about the lack of action from the Government and the Gambling Commission to effectively address the harms caused by the online gambling sector. This inaction has allowed the industry to continue to prey on vulnerable gamblers.

The report also highlights the disparity in content controls and stake and deposit limits between online and offline games. It notes that the Government has accepted the principle that harm can be reduced by reducing staking levels and it is clear that stake and deposit limits are needed in the online world to limit harm. The cross-party group argue that there is no justification for having slot machine style games online with staking levels above £2, in line with land based venues.

The report further notes that the Gambling Commission is looking at other aspects of regulation but has made no mention of what is clearly one of the key issues to address – stake and prizes online. As such, the Parliamentarians have raised concerns that that the Gambling Commission is not fit for purpose.

The group calls on online gambling operators to sign its ‘Charter for Regulatory Reform’, to signal their intention and support for the policy proposals and recommendations, outlined in its report.

The key recommendation of the report are that the Government should urgently introduce new gambling legislation with a focus on harm prevention.

It wants to stake and prize limits be urgently introduced online. The report finds no justification for online slot machine style games with staking levels above £2, as it is offline. It wants the Gambling Commission to urgently improve its standards in the area of online gambling.

There is an ‘urgent need’ it claimed, ‘to ban the use of credit cards to gamble online.’ It said it ‘is inconceivable that gamblers are able to fund their addiction using debt.’

It also says that improved affordability checks is urgently needed and that banks be given an increased role in relation to affordability checks and that VIP accounts and the inducements offered to gamblers should be restricted.

It wants online gambling operators to significantly improve the measures they take to protect vulnerable and at-risk gamblers. Operators should also simplify their terms and conditions for easy comprehension.

It wants the sector needs to urgently adopt a more responsible approach to advertising to protect children and the vulnerable and wants a ‘duty of care’ to be placed on gambling operators, and wants them to commit to fund blocking software, offered without charge to gamblers who self-exclude from their website.

The group also wants the treatment of gambling addiction and support for gambling related harm to be part of the NHS remit.

It wants a ‘smart statutory levy’ of one per cent be introduced to fund research and that the commissioning of research be transferred from GambleAware and the Gambling Commission to independent UK research councils and a public health setting.
The GRH APPG, chaired by Carolyn Harris MP, took evidence from, among others, academics, problem gamblers, banks, charities and online gambling operators.

Due to the political context, the group is yet to meet with the new Gambling Minister or any representative from the Gambling Commission. This therefore is an interim report, and the group will publish its full report after its final hearings.

Chair, GRH APPG, Carolyn Harris MP said: “This report highlights the urgent need for a root and branch review of the regulation of online gambling. Stakes and prize limits online would be a major step forward in reducing the harm caused by the sector. It is not at all clear why the Gambling Commission is not looking at this as a matter of urgency. It is an abdication of its responsibility as a regulator. There must be consistent and appropriate regulation of all forms of gambling. I also urge the Government to urgently review the provision of research, education and treatment in the sector. Gamble Aware are not effectively carrying out this function and it should immediately be brought into a public health setting.”

Vice-Chair, GRH APPG, Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith said: “Gambling addiction is becoming a public health crisis. It is clear from this inquiry that the powers of the Gambling Commission need to be significantly strengthened. For too long, online gambling operators have exploited vulnerable gamblers to little or no retribution from the regulator. We cannot continue to fail vulnerable gamblers. I therefore urge the Commission to look into this issue in greater depth. It is outrageous that there are not stake limits online, that gamblers are still able to gamble using credit cards online and that operators are able to continue to offer inducements to the vulnerable without proper sanction.”

Vice-Chair, GRH APPG, Ronnie Cowan MP said: “It appears that the business model of some of these online gambling companies encourages and drives harmful gambling behaviour. These operators use various marketing and technological tools to extract as much money as possible from vulnerable gamblers, then use NDAs to cover up wrongdoings. This cannot continue to happen. The next Government and the Gambling Commission need to take radical actions to reduce gambling related harm.”

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