The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on gambling related harm resumed their call for evidence on the 12 February 2020.
Having set out their agenda for 2020 earlier in the year, the APPG maintained their commitment to tighter regulation of the sector with demands for parity between online and betting office machines stakes, amongst other things. The CEO of the Gambling Commission, Neil McArthur was questioned by members of the Group, in what was an illuminating, and at times awkward, session for the Commission.
The initial report of the APPG was published in November last year, the hand of the group being forced by the announcement of the General Election, prior to hearing evidence from the Minister and the National Regulator. In a sometimes testy exchange between members of the group and Mr McArthur, the focus of the questioning centred on five key topics:
On the question of the disparity between remote and non-remote stake limits, Mr McArthur confirmed that he did not accept that “online is being treated so very differently” to non-remote, and that the Commission was consistently looking to find ways to make online gaming safe.
Mr McArthur advised that whilst the Commission's research showed that most stakes wagered online were under £2, the Commission would nevertheless be investigating and considering a proposal to cut stakes over the next six months so that they fell in line with the recent reductions to the stakes for FOBTs.
In relation to the issues of fines, Mr MacArthur confirmed that fines imposed by the Commission in the last 12 months were at a record level. Whilst the APPG inferred from this that the rise in fines was clear evidence that this form of enforcement action was simply not working, and that the Commission should be looking to revoke licences, in the Commissions defence, Mr McArthur he suggested that it reflected an increase in effective regulatory action by the Commission against “repeat offenders”.
The biggest concern, however, in the course of the evidence session was reserved for the role of VIP rooms, where, one member of the group observed, the “level of control and observance or regulations…was minimal” and that it was “the people on the margins” who were being targeted. This area, Mr McArthur confirmed, was very much at the forefront of the Commissions thinking. This would be reflected in either a new voluntary code, or where that was not possible, a change in the LCCP.
When questioned on the issue of advertising Mr McArthur confirmed the Commissions view that there “is too much gambling advertising on television” and that the Commission would be making further recommendations on the point, and that on the vexed question of affordability (a key theme of the APPG Interim report) Mr McArthur confirmed that this was a “priority of the Gambling Commission”, whilst acknowledging that it was very difficult to know how to measure the issue of affordability for individual customers.
There is a clear frustration from the APPG that changes in the sector, for the better protection of the consumer, are being driven by the APPG itself and not the Gambling Commission.
In the aftermath of the evidence session, the Government’s commitment to a full scale review of the Gambling Act came under further scrutiny in Parliament last week when the then Under Secretary at the DCMS, Helen Whately, again confirmed that the Government is “working at the moment on the scope of the gambling review.”
What is clear from the tone of last week’s evidence session (and a subsequent comment from Ronnie Cowan MP, and a member of the APPG that “rather than tinkering around the edges of the Gambling Act, will the UK Government rip it up and write a new one fit for the 21st century?”) is that the APPG will remain more committed than ever to ensure that the wholescale recommendations that were set out in the interim report form part of the review of the Gambling Act.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at February 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.