BGC welcomes government review of the Gambling Act 2005, expected to commence this autumn

Authoring an article entitled “While we wait for the Government’s gambling review, we’re getting on with raising standards in our industry”, Betting & Gaming Council CEO Michael Dugher has written as follows:

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis we have not lost sight of our commitment to driving up standards across the industry as a whole.

As Parliament comes back after the summer recess, MPs – fresh from their rain-sodden staycations – face busy in-trays, not least in dealing with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. But as well as the desperate need to get the economy moving again, the ‘new normal’ is also a chance to move forward with other reforms and one of them is the Government’s imminent review of gambling.

No one could possibly have foreseen betting shops, casinos and bingo halls having to close their doors for months as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

Understandably, this has meant that much of our work – as the body representing the regulated betting industry, excluding the National Lottery – has been focused on helping those venues re-open again in a way that was safe for both their staff and customers.

Nevertheless, throughout this time we have not lost sight of our commitment to driving up standards across the industry as a whole.

At the start of the pandemic, we published a 10-pledge action plan setting out the standards expected of our members during the crisis.

Our members also voluntarily removed TV and radio gaming adverts during lockdown. And going forward, they have agreed that at least 20 per cent of TV and radio advertising will be safer gambling messages.

Since we launched less than a year ago as the new standards body, the BGC has driven a number of important changes across the industry. These include cooling off periods on gaming machines, new ID and age verification checks, encouraging deposit limits and boosting funding for research, education and treatment.

In the past fortnight, we’ve seen clear evidence that it’s bearing fruit.  A study by Enders Analysis showed that that the whistle-to-whistle ban on TV betting ads during live sport has been a tremendous success. This runs from five minutes before a game starts until five minutes after it finishes, before the 9pm watershed.

In its first year in operation, the ban has reduced the number of betting ads seen by 4 to 17-year-olds by 97 per cent during the whistle to whistle period.

By any measure, this represents an outstanding result and demonstrates how seriously the BGC’s members take an issue which has rightly been the subject of much public debate.

And last week, the industry again responded to public concerns, this time surrounding young people being able to view betting adverts. Our updated Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising introduced a range of tough new measures aimed at further preventing under-18s from seeing such ads online.

Under the new code – which comes into force on October 1 – BGC members will have to ensure that their social media adverts are targeted at consumers aged 25 and over unless the website can prove its adverts can be precisely targeted at over-18s.

It also includes a requirement that betting ads appearing on search engines must make clear that they are for those aged 18 and over. In addition, the adverts themselves must also include safer gambling messages.

YouTube users will also have to log in to age-verified accounts before they can view gambling ads, guaranteeing that they cannot be seen by under-18s. And BGC members will have to post frequent responsible gambling messages on their Twitter accounts.

Compare this clear evidence of improving standards with what goes on with offshore black market betting sites, where there are no checks or standards.

And avoiding driving customers into the arms of these unscrupulous, unregulated black market online operators is the first of two things the Government must seek to avoid in its reforms to betting.

Most people – me included – agree that reforms are long overdue and I know most MPs rightly want to see big changes. They are different from the small minority of anti-gambling prohibitionists who just don’t like online betting full stop. But we must avoid turning the clocks back to a time where punters went to illegal operators, where there are no standards, safeguards or protections.

The second thing we must avoid in the gambling review is to put at risk the serious economic contribution regulated betting makes. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the betting and gaming industry pays over £3bn a year to the Treasury in tax, while employing 100,000 hardworking men and women.

With the prospect of mass redundancies in the economy and with the perilous state of the public finances, we need to back British businesses that provide good employment and who help to swell the Treasury coffers.

Earlier this year I called for the Government to bring forward its review of gambling. It is excellent news that we now expect this important work to begin in earnest this autumn and we are very much looking forward to contributing to what we trust will be an evidence-led process.

In July, a report by the cross-party House of Lords Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry rightly said that the challenge is to “make gambling safer for all, but no less enjoyable for those who do participate safely”.

I couldn’t agree more. For our part, regulated BGC members will keep working hard to drive up standards in the betting and gaming industry even further. The millions of British people who enjoy an occasional flutter deserve no less.