Chris Philp: Ritchie inquiry highlights need for comprehensive gambling reforms 

DCMS undersecretary Chris Philp has responded to questions posed by ministers in relation to the Sheffield Coroner’s verdict that ‘system failures had led to the tragic death of Jack Ritchie’.

Questioned at a hearing in the Commons yesterday, initiated by Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield (Labour), Philp was probed on how the government intends to reform the gambling sector and its relationship with regulatory authorities to guarantee the highest protection of young people and society’s most vulnerable.

Reflecting on the Coroner’s assessment, Blomfield stated that the “2005 Act was flawed, but it did not anticipate how the terrain would change and it is now completely out of date given the challenges we face.

“Meanwhile, the industry is using every opportunity to exploit people to maximise profits.”

The Labour MP deemed that the “most powerful lesson of the inquest” was that “a sector that derives 86% of profits from just 5% of customers was given the job of policing itself”.

Irrespective of safer gambling changes undertaken by the gambling since 2017, Blomfield declared that once again the sector had been tasked with finding solutions to its problems, in which it had faced little to no state scrutiny.

“The industry has been given responsibility for developing a technical solution — the single customer view — to protect those at risk or addicted. The last time the industry was tasked to develop a similar harm reduction tool, GAMSTOP, it dragged its heels for six years, and it failed,” the MP remarked.

The cooperation of industry trade body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) on safer gambling directives was questioned – as the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) currently awaits to obtain its first batch of data to test its Single Customer View pilot scheme.

Ministers asked whether DCMS was willing to intervene should the BGC fail to deliver on the schemes data demands and be replaced by a ”properly resourced and independent body”.

Backed by SNP Minister Ronnie Cowan, Blomfield outlined his support for the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank recommendation that the government should enforce affordability checks on players that lose more than £100 a month gambling.   

Blomfield concluded his statement, declaring that a “greater duty of care should be placed on operators to make them active partners in harm reduction” and change the landscape of the sector and its interaction with British consumers.  

Chris Philp responded by praising the determination of Jack Ritchie’s parents to pursue and launch a level-2 inquiry that has shed light on the sector’s failings and inadequacies for ministers to examine ahead of the Gambling Review.

On governance failures, Philp stated that there was a clear link between coroner David Urpeth’s separate conclusions that “the warnings Jack received were insufficient to prevent him gambling” and “the evidence was that gambling contributed to Jack’s death.”

For DCMS the inquest has emphasised the significance of considering the whole issue of how gambling is governed and how its businesses should be regulated to avoid the most tragic of outcomes.

For the record, Philp underlined safer gambling measures that had been implemented since 2017 that included –  reducing the FOBT stake to £2 per spin, a ban on credit card transactions, tighter restrictions on VIPs, making slot games safer by design and increasing the age limit of National Lottery products to +18.

“But these measures are not enough by a long chalk and we need to go further” – Philp proclaimed. “The evidence that we have seen, including from this coroner’s report and from many other sources, makes the case that we need to go significantly further to make sure that people are appropriately protected.”

Despite the concerns of parents of gambling harm sufferers, Philp stated that he could not pre-announce any of the policy proposals that will form part of the government’s White Paper.

The minister underscored that the government had used the broadest scientific research, professional feedback and input of lived-experience of gambling harms to draft its policy proposals. 

From its initial undertaking, the White Paper’s aims are to tighten the responsibilities of governing the UK gambling sector,  17-years after its market liberalisation under the terms of the 2005 Gambling Act

“We want to be proportionate in taking those steps—we do not want to prevent people who want to gamble on a leisure basis from doing so or put unreasonable obstacles in the way—but we do need to take action,” Philp continued. 

Of significance, the Gambling Minister stated that DCMS had weighed the evidence presented to the review, which further included the recent fines sanctioned by the UKGC against licensed operators. 

888 Holdings’ £9.4 million fine was branded as a serial failure, as was Sky Bet sending marketing emails to players who had self-excluded.  Meanwhile, Philp relayed his own disbelief when reading the news of a gambling addict that had stolen and spent £15 million gambling without any appropriate intervention taking place. 

Deemed as an “area of high attention” , the use of data was marked as a dominant factor of the review –  as to how it can be utilised by the Commission and stakeholders to improve the industry’s self-governance on problem gambling.

“As we seek to reform our country’s gambling legislation through the review, we do so with cases like Jack Ritchie’s in mind,” Philp concluded.

“I know that all of us in this House will be profoundly and powerfully conscious of our duty and our obligation to protect young people like Jack Ritchie and many, many others to make sure that we learn the lessons from his tragic death and so protect our fellow citizens.“ 

“I conclude by saying once again how grateful we all are for the campaigning and courage of Charles and Liz in bringing this important issue to the attention of the Government and of the House.” 

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