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UK – Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons slams lack of problem gambling insight

By - 29 June 2020

The Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons has slammed the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) for their ‘unacceptably weak understanding’ on problem gambling.

The report said the DCMS was ‘unwilling to accept the premise that increasing the commission’s budget to prevent harm would be preferable to spending on treating problem gamblers.’

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

The UK Gambling Commission said it welcomed the Public Accounts Committee report.

A spokesperson from the Gambling Commission said: “We are committed to making even further and faster progress to address gambling harms and were already addressing a number of the issues highlighted by the National Audit Office earlier this year.

“Over the past two years we have strengthened player protection measures, tightened the regulation of the online sector, introduced strict age and ID verification checks, brought in a ban on gambling with credit cards, and been tougher through our enforcement activity. In recent weeks we have also established an Experts by Experience advisory group who will help us to strengthen our efforts and help ensure we make an impact where it matters.

“We accepted before the Committee that there is always more to do and we are carefully considering the findings of their report to see what other additional steps we can take.”

The Interim Experts by Experience Group who will provide advice, evidence and recommendations to the Commission to help inform decision making and raise standards, along with co-creating a permanent Experts by Experience Advisory Group to advise the regulator on a more established basis.

The creation of the interim forum follows a workshop in March, in which people with lived experience were asked to offer perspectives on key topics including High Value Customers, Advertising Technology and Safe Game design – three areas the regulator had challenged the industry to make progress on quickly. Today the Commission also publishes a report on these areas of work which includes Expert by Experience input on progress made so far.

The group also discussed ideas about how the Commission could better work with people with lived experience and the need for more effective engagement and collaboration to benefit consumers, working together to prevent harm and make gambling safer.

Gambling Commission Chief Executive, Neil McArthur, said: “Our goal is to make gambling safer for consumers and the creation of the interim group is another important step in helping us bring a wider range of perspectives into our work.

“We will work with the interim group to co-create a formal Advisory Board, which will allow us to involve Experts by Experience more closely in the development of our regulatory framework.

“I am really grateful for the open and constructive way in which members of the interim group have shared their personal experiences of gambling related harm and for everyone’s commitment to work together to tackle these important issues. It is early days and we are learning along the way to ensure that feedback and advice is utilised in the most effective way. This week we looked at the subject of affordability and we’ll be focused on other areas of player protection online in the weeks ahead.’

A spokesperson for the Interim Group said: “The Interim Group comprises a group of people who have suffered a wide range of gambling harms, including recovering gambling addicts, family and partners of addicts, and those who have lost children to gambling suicides.

“The role that is too often allocated to Experts by Experience (EbEs) of telling our stories and commenting on narrowly defined questions is ineffective, so the establishment of the group is long overdue.

“We are determined that EbEs should play a continuing and much more active role in the deliberations and decision making across the whole remit of the Commission as part of the National Strategy to reduce gambling harms. We bring a new and vital perspective on key issues of regulation and even how the Commission itself works.

“We and they are learning how we can best work together, but we feel that there is a genuine commitment all round to make it work. Some of our comments were incorporated into the progress update on the industry-led working groups, but in future we may issue our own comments on issues that we have consulted with the Commission. We appreciate that the Commission recognises the value of our input, but we differ on certain key issues. Notably on how far and how fast improvements can be made. We look forward to working with the Commission.”

The interim group will be in place for at least the next six months, when the Commission plans to move to a permanent Advisory Group, which will add to other advice that the regulator receives through groups such as the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling and the Digital Advisory Panel.

This valuable input will add to the Commission’s other approaches currently used to include the views of consumers in their work. This includes information and feedback received from the consumer contact centre, online consumer research panels and engagement and consultations on regulatory changes.

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