Lord Don Foster of Bath, chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform and the latest guest in iGB’s Gambling Review Podcast, said the British gaming industry has made positive changes in recent months, but argued that this was only being done “as a last resort”.
Foster said that while he welcomes steps taken by the industry to reduce gambling harms, he views this as a reaction to negative developments rather than driven by a desire to raise standards.
“I think there’s no doubt whatsoever that the industry began to realise the game was up when they saw the enormous cross-party support and public support for the change in fixed-odds betting terminals,” he told co-hosts Daniel Bliss and Robin Harrison.
“Since then, we’ve seen all the industry groups come together into the BGC [which] has offered a number of measures, including increasing research education and treatment spending and some, albeit still quite limited, restrictions on advertising.
“So there’s no doubt that the industry is being more proactive but they’re really only doing that after being dragged to the table and of course there are many areas where we’d like them to go further.”
He was confident that a review would address many of the issues flagged in the report, Foster continued, and was pleased to see the Gambling Commission already examining the same issues before the review has commenced.
“I’m […] very pleased that the review we wanted is going to happen very soon, that there’s going to be a positive response to many of the recommendations in the Lords report and that the Commission is already getting on and looking at many of these issues like loot boxes, VIP schemes and even how they define what is affordable.”
Foster added that while the Commission has done well lately in addressing what he believes to be the most important issues, he was disappointed that it did not move faster. This, however, was most likely due to a lack of resources, that prevented it from being proactive.
“We were fairly critical of the Gambling Commission until the last couple of years when it seems to have upped its game, and I welcome that but of course regret the fact that it wasn’t doing this much sooner,” he said.
“In this fast-changing industry with ever more reliance in technology, the Gambling Commission is having difficulty having the staff in place to be able to be on top of everything.
“They are short on funds and relatively limited staffing budgets and it’s difficult attracting the brightest and best who would make a lot more money working for the industry itself.”
“We have to recognise that if the Gambling Commission is going to do many of the things we want them to, they need to be given the resources to do their job properly.”
The Peer went on to list a number of areas which he hoped an upcoming review of the Gambling Act would address.
These included sport sponsorship; funding for the Gambling Commission, greater controls around affordability, online stake limits and the classification of loot boxes under the commission’s remit.
However, he said the ultimate goal of the review was simply a framework that would be more effective in reducing gambling related harm.
“A third of a million people in the country are problem gamblers,” Foster said. “Many more people, maybe two million, are affected by problem gambling, and when we notice that maybe 55,000 children, under the legal age to gamble, are gambling addicts themselves.
“The one thing I want to see is fewer people affected by problem gambling, while at the same time allowing those who wish to gamble and can do so safely do it. I believe the key recommendations in the Lords reform would allow that to be the place, so a good outcome would be the implementation of those recommendations.”
Listen to the episode here, and catch up on previous episodes with Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher and All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm chair Carolyn Harris MP.