Read stakeholder responses to the publication of the government’s 2023 gambling white paper, “High stakes: gambling reform for the digital age”. What did the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Betting and Gaming Council, GambleAware, NHS, and Royal College of Psychiatrists highlight as the wins and losses for the people they serve? Were they convinced by the government’s plans to deliver ‘gambling reform for the digital age’?

Anticipation was very high around the UK Government’s gambling white paper – both because gambling hasn’t undergone a major review since the Gambling Act 2005, and because publication of the white paper itself was delayed and delayed (and delayed).

In the white paper, the government seeks to strike a balance between “protecting people from the potentially life-ruining effects of gambling-related harm” and “respecting the freedom of adults to engage in a legitimate leisure activity”. Some of the proposals include loosening restrictions for land-based casinos, limiting online slot machine stakes to between £2 and £15, and introducing a statutory levy on gambling operators to fund research, education and treatment of gambling harms. Below is a small sample of the sentiments that were expressed about the white paper soon after its publication – from unanimous support for the statutory levy, to pleas for the government to move quickly on implementing its proposals.

1. Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC)

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners is a membership organisation representing Police and Crime Commissioners.

The statement from APCC made a strong link between ‘problem gambling’ and crime, and referred to “online gambling [drawing…] people into serious criminality; stealing or defrauding in order to fund their addictive betting”.

“While many people gamble unproblematically, the evidence that problem gambling is linked to crime is clear and this must be tackled with the same urgency and focus as other addictions if we are to cut crime and reduce reoffending.”

The APCC welcomed the statutory levy on the gambling industry, and said it would work to ensure that Police and Crime Commissioners can “access this new funding for local initiatives to tackle gambling-related harm and crime”. The statement closed with the APCC calling for the government’s proposals to be “developed and implemented at a pace that recognises the urgent need to get to grips with this problem now”.

2. Betting and Gaming Council (BGC)

The Betting and Gaming Council is an industry body representing the vast majority of retail betting shops, online betting and gaming operators, casinos, and bingo operators.

The statement from BGC repeatedly stressed the benefits of gambling for the economy, for people who enjoy it, and for people who work in the industry. Gambling harms had a cursory mention in what was quite a lengthy statement.

“On behalf of our many members, the 110,000 people whose jobs rely on the regulated betting and gaming industry, and the 22.5 million people who enjoy a bet each month, we welcome the much-delayed publication of the Gambling White Paper.”

BGC said they “worked closely with Government to deliver a wide-ranging package of balanced, proportionate and effective reforms”. They also said that they “will continue concentrating [their] efforts on finding the right balance between protecting the vulnerable and young people and using technology to target the 0.2 per cent of adults who are problem gamblers, whilst not unduly impacting the enjoyment of the overwhelming majority of people who bet perfectly safely and responsibly”.

BGC welcomed the statutory levy and said it had “previously called for […] enhanced contributions to be made mandatory”. It also celebrated the government’s “decision to reject proposals from anti-gambling prohibitionists […] which would harm our best-loved sports like horseracing and football, threaten jobs and drive customers to the growing unsafe, unregulated gambling black market online”.

3. GambleAware

GambleAware is a grant-making charity, which commissions prevention and treatment services across England, Scotland and Wales. It is primarily funded by donations from the gambling industry (see the declaration of donations for 2020–2021).

Zoë Osmond, CEO of GambleAware, said the gambling white paper was a “welcome step in the right direction for the prevention of gambling harms”.

“This is a substantial package of measures. In particular, we whole-heartedly support the introduction of a statutory levy on the gambling industry to ensure sustainable and transparent funding for research, education and treatment.”

The statement referred to the “many delays” in the publication of the white paper, and said it is “critical that we act with urgency to ensure that the measures outlined are implemented swiftly, especially given that so many of them are subject to further consultation”.

GambleAware supported the introduction of a statutory levy on the gambling industry, but said that the government had missed an opportunity to increase regulation of gambling advertising, particularly for children who are regularly exposed to gambling marketing on social media.

4. National Health Service (NHS)

The NHS provides free healthcare services to everyone in the UK based on their needs. This includes hospital, dental, pharmacy, and general practice services.

The statement from the NHS focused on “gambling addiction”. NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch said that the NHS had almost 50% more referrals in 2022 compared with 2021, caused by a “billion-pound industry profiting on vulnerable people”.

“The NHS has long called for action to tackle gambling addiction which destroys people’s lives – I have personally heard of countless examples of people bereaved by gambling addiction or who have contemplated suicide – so I am delighted that the Government has committed to tackling this cruel disease.”

The NHS welcomed the government’s commitment to tackling this “cruel disease”, specifically praising the introduction of a statutory levy.

5. Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych)

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional medical body responsible for supporting psychiatrists throughout their careers from training to retirement, and for setting and raising standards of psychiatry in the United Kingdom.

In a statement on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones OBE said that the white paper is a “step in the right direction”, but “the scale and pace of the proposed changes are disappointing and represent a significant missed opportunity to fully tackle the harms associated with gambling”.

“While the White Paper rightly recognises gambling harm as a serious public health issue, it could and should have done more to reflect that reality. In my clinic, I treat hundreds of men and women each year who have lost everything to addictive gambling through no fault of their own – their job, their home, their partner and friends.”

Professor Bowden-Jones welcomed the statutory levy on industry and the appointment of a new ombudsman. However, she criticised proposals that would make it easier to establish casinos, as well as the government’s lack of proposals to limit gambling advertising, sponsorships, and loot boxes that target children.

by Natalie Davies

The opinions expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the SSA.

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