And now for the House of Lords report on the gambling sector…

After the final report from the Gambling-Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group (“APPG”) and the report from the Committee of Public Accounts of the House of Commons on the gambling sector (“HOC Committee”), we now have the (hopefully final) part of the regulatory trilogy, the report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry (“HOL Committee”).

It’s not a short read – at 192 pages, we are still digesting its findings and recommendations – but, like its predecessors, it finds that more needs to be done to prevent gambling-related harm in the UK.

The HOL Committee sets out a range of recommendations across different areas which, it claims, would reduce gambling-related harm. The key recommendations, as set out in the HOL Committee’s press release, are as follows:

  • The gambling industry offers a variety of products to consumers, including some which can be highly addictive. The Gambling Commission should create a system for testing all new games against a series of harm indicators, including their addictiveness and whether they will appeal to children. A game which scores too highly on the harm indicators must not be approved.
  • The equalisation of speed of play and spin, so that no game can be played quicker online than in a casino, bookmaker or bingo hall.
  • The Gambling Commission must explain the minimum steps which operators should take when considering customer affordability, and make clear that it is for the operator to take the steps which will enable them to identify customers who are betting more than they can afford.
  • The creation of a statutory independent Gambling Ombudsman Service, modelled on the Financial Ombudsman Service, to settle disputes between gambling operators and gamblers.
  • The Government must act immediately to bring loot boxes within the remit of gambling legislation and regulation.
  • Gambling operators should no longer be allowed to advertise on the shirts of sports teams or any other visible part of their kit. There should also be no gambling advertising in or near any sports grounds or sports venues.
  • Problem gambling is a common mental health disorder, and the NHS has the same duty to treat it as to treat any other disorder. Last year the NHS promised to open 15 new clinics. It should do this before 2023 and establish a comparable number within the following few years.

In addition to those key ones above, the report contains a multitude of other recommendations. In particular, the HOL Committee states that “the law should be amended to make an operator who contravenes provisions of the licence conditions and social responsibility codes liable to an action for breach of statutory duty at the suit of a customer who has suffered loss as a result of that contravention”. This suggestion that a statutory “duty of care” should be introduced is, perhaps surprisingly, not only of interest to lawyers, as it would have profound implications for the gambling industry in the UK.

So what happens now? Well, the HOL Committee makes reference to the now traditional “review [of] the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure it is fit for the digital age” which, while actually a somewhat meaningless soundbite, is official government policy having been part of the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2019 general election. When the government will have time to undertake that review is the big question. It seems safe to say that, whatever one’s view of this government’s competence and/or the gambling industry’s actions, dealing with a pandemic, the economic consequences of a pandemic, and the most significant changes to the UK’s international trading relationships in almost 40 years will likely take priority.

The HOL Committee notes, however, that while a few of its recommendations can only be implemented by primary legislation, most need only secondary legislation or changes in the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice. All eyes are therefore yet again on DCMS and the Gambling Commission, bodies which the HOC Committee last week described as having an “unacceptably weak understanding of the impact of gambling harms and lack measurable targets for reducing them”. For the sake of both the gambling industry and British consumers, one hopes that these bodies can use the evidence available to increase protection for consumers, particularly vulnerable individuals, while ensuring that the gambling industry, and its many economic benefits, is not sacrificed to the baying hordes of populist politicians and media.

Given the length and scope of the report, we will focus in more detail on some of its recommendations in future blogs.