Michael Dugher: Gambling deserves a deeper debate than simplistic narratives
Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has warned ministers that gambling’s complex socio dynamics can not be judged on the notion of simplistic rhetoric.
Writing on the Commons news source Politics Home, Dugher outlined stakeholder frustrations at the meandering nature of the debate on gambling reforms, industry duties and protections.
His response was submitted as ministers and gambling reformists spoke this week at the ‘Gambling Reform Rally’ (8 March) – hosted by the parliamentary Gambling Related Harm APPG and Peers for Gambling groups and covered extensively by the media.
Of concern, Dugher highlighted that following a year-long wait for the delayed outcome of the Gambling Review, the debate has come down to whether “gambling should be treated like tobacco or alcohol?
He insisted that yet again gambling prohibitionists had boiled-down complex debates on governing a multi-billion-pound tax-generating sector into simple narratives.
“Some 22.5 million adults enjoy betting and gaming each month, whether that’s doing the lottery, enjoying a game of bingo or a day at the races, playing casino games or having a bet on the football or other sports,” he remarked.
“Yet anti-gambling prohibitionists, who again this week called for draconian, arbitrary measures to clamp down on everyone who enjoys a bet, want you to believe having a flutter poses the same risks as having a cigarette. Although this is a minority view in Parliament and certainly amongst the public, it’s an approach that risks disproportionate policy responses to what the Government promised would be an ‘evidence-led’ review.”
Following this week’s discourse, Dugher underlined that prohibitionists did not understand the consequences and damages of their desired outcome to treat gambling like tobacco or alcohol.
From his observations, prohibitionists hold an incomprehensible view of the regulatory structures and enforcement requirements needed to treat gambling like one-or-the-other and the divisive implications it would have on the UK public.
He noted: “Can you imagine the middle class outcry if supermarkets couldn’t do special offers on a bottle of wine? Yet there are some that want to tell working-class punters having a flutter on the horses or the football that consumers can’t have any offers on betting.”
Referencing growing frustrations, Dugher noted that “there is a creeping snobbery coming into this debate – as the former DCMS shadow secretary pointed to in a recent Sunday Times article, in which the columnist noted that he’d “never understood the appeal of gambling”.
“Fair enough. Each to their own,” he added. “But then he spent 18 paragraphs lecturing his readers as to what changes should be made for millions of people for whom betting is appealing and indeed enjoyable.”
The BGC leader also acknowledged that there would always be extreme views on regulating gambling, but expressed shock when one MP at the anti-gambling rally likened regulated betting firms to “drug dealers” and that gambling was like “a little bag of heroin”.
“It’s a while since I fought an election, but I’m not sure how successful you’ll be by likening millions of voters who enjoy a bet, in the Red Wall or anywhere else, as a bunch of smackheads,” he warned.
As the Gambling Review enters its final stretch, Dugher outlined that ministers hold a public duty to review and verify the research and information that they had received from all sources – including government bodies that had spread misinformation.
Working with its members, the BGC has achieved its headline objective to reduce problem gambling, with the latest Gambling Commission data indicating that PG rates have fallen from 0.6% to 0.3% over the past 18 months, since the trade body’s foundation.
Concluding his response, Dugher advised ministers to stick to the Gambling Review’s original pledge to “strike the right balance between its regulatory approach, better-protecting consumers and not interfering with choice”.
He stated: “Chris Philp also recently said in Westminster that ‘chnge is needed and change is coming’. Again he’s right. But gambling reform will also be a test for the Government. These are often complex issues and getting future regulation right, so that it is genuinely balanced and proportionate, will require careful handling and considerable political skill.
“Only last month Steve Barclay, the Prime Minister’s new Chief of Staff, used his first article in the new job, to call for a “smaller state – both financially and in taking a step back from people’s lives.
“After everything we’ve had to put up with throughout Covid, he said it was time to ‘trust people’ and free up business to deliver.”