The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) has said that the 2016-19 National Responsible Gambling Strategy achieved a number of key milestones, but ultimately failed to make as much progress as hoped in tackling gambling-related harm in Great Britain.
Since the strategy was published in April 2016, the RGSB said, progress had been made in having gambling recognised as a public health issue, while work was being done to better understand and measure gambling-related harms.
The Board also highlighted a shift away from the notion that promoting responsible gambling was the main way of reducing such harms. More and more stakeholders were accepting that other factors such as product design and gambling environments, among others, played a key role.
Furthermore, the RGBS added, the past year had seen some major developments, with Public Health England announcing plans to carry out a review of gambling-related harms. It also highlighted the fact that the National Health Service’s (NHS) 10-year plan committed to reducing gambling harms, and that the NHS and GambleAware were to establish a regional clinic in Leeds.
“The overall verdict on the strategy must, however, be that, we have moved neither far enough nor fast enough,” the RGSB said. “We are still some way from a coherent national approach. We do not yet know enough about what works in harm prevention.
“We have done too little to test new ideas and evaluate their impact,” it continued. “Treatment is not accessed by many of those who could benefit from it. Eventual outcomes for those that do are unclear. Recognition of gambling as a public health issue now needs to be followed up by effective action.”
In particular, the RGSB said it had been particularly disappointed by progress towards developing a culture of evaluation. This had aimed to ensure all responsible gambling interventions were fully tested so that results could be published and shared across the industry.
The Board said that over the three years, the industry had not moved closer to understanding what worked in terms of harm minimisation, with opportunities to evaluate interventions routinely missed. It said that the evaluations that were carried out did not focus enough on the impact on the end user, and that the Gambling Commission and Government did not properly evaluate the impact of regulatory action and legislative changes.
It also noted that when it came to assessing the effects of product characteristics and environment on problem gambling, games developers were initially reluctant to acknowledge links between their games and the potential for harm.
“This attitude is beginning to change,” the RGSB noted, however. “Some operators are now demonstrating a greater awareness of concerns about product design and have committed to take steps to understand the risks better.”
The industry also failed to carry out a systematic review of the role of education in preventing gambling-related harm. The RGSB said it was “probably over-optimistic” about the time needed to develop a plan to improve the quality and capacity of treatment available to problem gamblers, another key priority action.
Ultimately, the RGSB said that a lot had changed over the current three-year strategy, and that it had either been over-optimistic or had underestimated the need for detailed implementation plans in certain areas.
“As a result, there have been some disappointments,” it said.
“But there have also been some notable successes, especially the beginning of noticeable change in mindset about the need for action on gambling-related harms and the best ways of approaching it,” the RGSB added. “We believe therefore that a valuable opportunity has now opened up for the new strategy to make a significant step up in delivering the objective of reducing gambling harms.”
It suggested that the future strategy, due to be launched later this month, would provide an opportunity to learn from the failings of the 2016-19 plan, and build on the successes of that period.
This, it added, would be aided by the Gambling Commission taking direct responsibility for developing and implementing the new strategy, supported by the RGSB – under a new name and with a new chair.