Newsnight places gambling reform conflicts under the spotlight

Last night, the long-awaited conclusion of the UK government’s review of the gambling industry was put under the spotlight by Newsnight – the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs review programme.

Dedicating a 30-minute segment to “the government’s rethink of gambling laws”, Newsnight reported on the “cost of gambling addiction and opportunities for reform”. 

Led by BBC correspondent Anna Collison, the report underlined that “balancing the need to protect the vulnerable, whilst preserving a multi-billion tax flow, involves a tricky judgement”. 

Newsnight also acknowledged recent media speculation that “affordability checks will be very likely to be included” in the reforms. However, the government will scrap plans to impose a ban on football shirt sponsorships, “leading experts to claim that the white paper will be watered-down”.

The report reflected on the digital overhaul of the UK gambling sector, undertaken since gambling laws were last reviewed in 2005.  

Former addict, James Grimes from suicide prevention charity and Gambling with Lives who lost £100,000 over 12 -year battle with harms, told Newsnight that his addiction was triggered as a teenager by football close relationship with gambling operators.

In the programme, gambling policy researcher Heather Wardle from the University of Glasgow branded Public Health England’s (PHE) finding that 0.05% of UK adults suffered from problem gambling addiction as a ‘conservative estimate’. 

Wardle cited concerns that the White Paper will lack a vital measure to protect the vulnerable from problem gambling addiction by excluding a mandatory levy on treatment and support.

Responding to criticism, NewsNight noted that “betting companies had been much more proactive in tackling problematic behaviours”, highlighting Kindred Group’s PS-EDS Player Safety – Early Detection System and its target to “reach zero revenues from harmful gambling”.

Newsnight was given ‘rare access’ to Kindred’s monitoring of customers and how it intervenes when behaviours appear problematic. Kindred further outlined that it would soon be able to assess “the financial situation of a customer at the point of registration”.  

The report was followed by a round-table debate featuring Smarkets CEO Jason Trost, Baroness Hilary Armstrong, and Vice Chair of the Peers for Gambling Reform Group and GamCare CEO Anna Hemmings.

Operating the National Gambling Helpline, Hemmings stated that frontline support services required help on early intervention by preventing problems from escalating, ideally through effective legislation.

Trost acknowledged that safer gambling had been at the forefront of the industry’s leadership agenda, in which operators had spent significant resources to build new monitoring tools and controls.

The Smarkets CEO also accepted that it was a tough regulatory balance facing lawmakers, saying: “There is a slippery slope possibility of when do you want  companies adjudicating a customer’s behaviour.”

Baroness Armstrong responded to Trost’s remarks, stating that “the problem is that the evidence does not match the rhetoric” on operators’ actual conduct and behaviour”.

She stated: “Yes it’s very easy to place your first bet, but it’s very difficult to leave, or to recognise that you are spending too much.”

Armstrong further predicted that she believes the “industry will get a good deal from the White Paper”. The BBC concluded that the White Paper report could be published as early as next week.

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