Gambling-Related Harm APPG press release not quite the surprise it claims it is

Following its oral-evidence session with Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission on Tuesday of this week 12 February 2020, the Gambling-Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group has today published the following press release (that – together with its other press releases and postings dating back to 10 April 2019 – can be downloaded below) that focuses particularly on online gambling stake limits:

Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group questions Neil McArthur, CEO of the Gambling Commission

The Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group questioned Neil McArthur, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission on 12th February on its role as a regulator and its duty in protecting the most vulnerable from gambling related harm.

Chair of the APPG, Carolyn Harris, along with Vice Chairs Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Ronnie Cowan and Lord Don Foster pressed the Gambling Commission’s Chief Executive on a range of issues including asking if the Gambling Commission was fit for purpose and about the ineffectualness of fines on the behaviour of online gambling companies.

After pressing Mr McArthur on a review of online stakes, he confirmed for the first time that the Gambling Commission would be reviewing online stakes within six months. The APPG has previously called for stake limits for online gambling including a £2 stake limit for slot content, which has been shown to be highly addictive. The APPG recommended in its November report a ban on the use of credit cards in gambling. The APPG is pleased that this has now been taken forward, and is hopeful the Group’s further recommendations are now adopted as policy without further delay.

The Gambling Commission also said that if action wasn’t taken by companies to reduce the harm caused by lucrative VIP accounts then the Commission would need to ban them. The Commission agreed also that something needed to be done about the volume of gambling advertising.

Carolyn Harris MP, Chair of the All Party Gambling Related Harm APPG said:

“A review of stake limits online has been clearly recommended by the All Party Parliamentary Group and is long overdue. I am very pleased that the Gambling Commission has finally seen sense on this.  Online slot content games should be reduced to £2 a spin in line with the rules in betting shops. The Gambling Commission must stop being reactive and take action to protect the vulnerable from harm in line with their licensing objectives.”

What Neil McArthur informed the APPG is not necessarily a surprise, given the fact that it will constitute implementation by the Gambling Commission of another key recommendation that was flagged up by the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling in its Advice on actions to reduce online harms (previously reported by us here), when the ABSG said:

Stake, prize, and speed of play limits

Online gambling has many features which are likely to increase the risk of harm relative to gambling offline – these include instant availability, 24-hour accessibility, potential for isolation and targeted marketing. There are no limits for online gaming on maximum stakes, prizes and speed of play. This situation is a clear contrast to similar products in land-based environments. The rationale the absence of limits is based on online operators using data on their customers to monitor play and intervene where necessary.

The availability of data allows operators to monitor and track play. Although this offers, at least in theory, some safeguards, we are not convinced enough is being done to mitigate against the associated risk of harms. We believe that this calls into question the sustainability of the current arrangements.

We recommend that the Gambling Commission starts to plan how a regime for stake, prize and speed of play limits could be implemented for online gambling. Unless significant improvements in player protection are achieved over the course of the current National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, we recommend that the Gambling Commission works with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to introduce these changes.

Quite regardless of the merits of the APPG’s argument that parity should exist between online and offline staking limits, what is more surprising is that, along with other pressure groups, it continue to press for a £2 maximum online staking limit. The APPG now says that this is to achieve parity with the maximum stake for gaming machines in land-based betting shops, ignoring the fact that the maximum stakes permitted for category B1 gaming machines in land-based casinos in the UK – surely a more appropriate comparator – is £5 (as is confirmed on the Gambling Commission’s website here).

In this respect, this latest statement by the APPG represents a change from that made in its 4 November 2019 press release on the same subject (entitled “Cross Party MPs call for £2 limit on online slot machine games to tackle gambling harm“, when it said that “there is no justification for having slot machine style games online with staking levels above £2, in line with land based venues”.

An intervening press release has also been published (on 23 January 2020) by the APPG entitled “Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group Sets Out its Work Programme for the Year“, in which it has said:

The Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group (GRH APPG) met this week to re-elect its officers and set out their work programme for the year. The Group, which has been highly effective, agreed to continue to vigorously campaign to reduce gambling related harm during this Parliament and to ensure that the new Gambling Act delivered better regulation.

Carolyn Harris MP was re-elected as Chair of the Group. The Rt Hon Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, Ronnie Cowan MP, Lord Foster and Sammy Wilson MP were also elected as Vice-Chairs of the Group, demonstrating the cross-party support for the group.

The APPG welcomed the Government’s decision this month to ban gambling with credit cards. This was a recommendation made by the APPG in its interim report on online gambling, published in November 2019. The Group agreed that it would now be campaigning to ensure that the remaining recommendations set out in its report were also actively taken forward including restrictions on the staking levels online, on gambling advertising and the statutory ‘smart’ levy to fund research, education and treatment.

In completing its current inquiry into online gambling, the APPG will call upon the Gambling Commission and the Gambling Minister to appear before the Group to contribute to the APPG’s final report, which will be published in the coming months.

This year, the group will also be undertaking evidence sessions to provide recommendations to the Gambling Review which is due to be undertaken by Government ahead of the new Gambling Act.

Evidence sessions will look at all aspects of harm in the industry including at areas such as the age level for purchasing scratch-cards, the normalisation of gambling, gambling advertising and the ‘gamblification’ of sport.

Carolyn Harris MP said:

“I am delighted to have been re-elected Chair of the GRH APPG. Gambling related harm is an issue that is very close to my heart and one I am extremely passionate about. The APPG is not anti-gambling, we support a safe and sustainable industry. Our primary concern is to continue to champion the cause for better regulation and we are determined that all parts of the industry should operate openly, fairly and in a way that does not prey on vulnerable people”

What is quite clear is that we can expect the APGG to press for all recommendations contained in its Online Gambling Harm Inquiry Interim Report (published in November 2019, as previously reported by us) to feature prominently within the forthcoming review of the Gambling Act 2005, particularly given the ministerial confirmation provided in Parliament on 8 January 2020 that “nothing is off the table” insofar as matters to be considered as part of the review process are concerned. You can read more about that in our website posting entitled “More choppy waters ahead in Parliament for the UK licensed gambling industry”.