Michael Dugher: Ministers ‘walking a tightrope’ on Gambling Act balancing

With the White Paper and subsequent outcomes of the 2005 Gambling Act review due to be revealed this year, the legislative overhaul could have substantial political impacts. 

This is according to Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), in a comment piece written in the The Telegraph published this morning.

As argued by the BGC Chief, the outcomes of the gambling act review could have a substantial political impact, and so both Ministers and MPs may be, and in his opinion should be, wary of the views of their constituents – particularly the numerous working-class voters, such as those in the ‘Red Wall’ chain of Midlands and Northern English seats, who switched from Labour to Conservative in 2019. 

“Many voters see betting, and the sports which rely on revenues from betting, as part of their culture,” he explained. “They are resentful of ‘COVID mission creep’. Boris Johnson has enough on his plate without picking another fight with Tory MPs concerned about state interference in personal freedoms.

“Many of those Conservatives are trying to hold onto working class voters who regard restrictions on betting as a culture war waged by high-handed politicians who don’t approve of how they spend their time and money.”

Citing a recent survey by Racing TV, Dugher argued that many working-class voters in the Red Wall would show discontent with heavier restrictions on gambling, particularly if said regulations had an impact on their privacy. 

The survey in question found that 85% of punters believed that there is a danger consumers would move towards the unregulated black market should restrictions be implemented, whilst 95% of respondents would not be happy if bookmakers were to have access to their bank accounts or if they were made to hand over payslips as proof of funds.

Dugher continued: “How the government safeguards jobs and personal freedoms, prevents gamblers drifting off to the unsafe black market, and ensures more protections for the vulnerable and those at risk, without interfering in the enjoyment of millions of responsible gamblers, is a balancing act.”

Stricter regulation, he argued, will lead to a reduction in the regulated betting industry – which Dugher asserted is the main goal of ‘prohibitionist’ gambling reform advocates – but not a reduction in gambling overall. 

“If people are restricted from betting with licensed operators, with all their safer gambling measures, they will simply move to the many unlicensed, unregulated and unsafe gambling websites in the black market,” the Shadow Cabinet member maintained.

“Ministers are walking a tightrope. We hope they keep their balance,” he continued, whilst also sharing his view that greater protection of children and young people should be a key outcome of the legislative overhaul. 

 

As referenced by Dugher, the primary forms of betting carried out by 11 to 16 year olds are private bets between friends, scratchcards, fruit machines and card games – which fall outside of the BGC’s remit. 

Additionally, although a UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) report found that the number of young people gambling has fallen from 23% in 2011 to 11% in 2019, Dugher maintained that this figure is ‘still far too high’. 

“We need to build on the good work, funded by the industry, to better educate youngsters about gambling-related harm,” Dugher remarked.

Despite his calls for an evidence-led approach to the legislative review, Dugher further argued that Minister’s need to ‘make good on their promise’ to adopt an evidence-led approach to the proceedings. 

“Around 30 million people – nearly half the population – gamble on the National Lottery, bingo, in a betting shop or casino, and increasingly online,” he said. “When I quote that figure to my former parliamentary colleagues, most are surprised at how high it is.

“This poses an interesting challenge to ministers charged with introducing the biggest shake-up of our gambling laws in years. It is vital they make good on their promise that future changes will be ‘evidence-led’.”

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