Gambling in the UK: A summary of the Lords Gambling Industry Committee Report
By Steve Sharman
In July 2020, the Lords Gambling Industry Committee published its report, Gambling Harm – Time for Action. Recommendations from the report are bold and leave no doubt that the Committee believes that regulation of the gambling industry is due a long-awaited overhaul. If implemented, the recommendations from the report would have far reaching implications for the gambling industry, gamblers, clinicians, lobbyists, researchers and beyond.
The report highlighted how the 2005 Gambling Act and smart phones have created a ‘perfect storm’ for gambling harm.
The Committee received both oral and written submissions from, among others, academics, gambling industry representatives, experts by experience, and treatment providers.
The Committee made 66 recommendations in response to what Committee Chair Lord Grade of Yarmouth described as a ‘huge problem’. The recommendations regarding gambling-related harm, children and young people, and research education and treatment are summarised here:
Gambling Related Harm
- The report is clear that more needs to be done to understand and quantify the relationship between gambling and suicide. This includes adding questions on gambling to the Adult psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2021, and changes to the Notification of Death Regulations 2019 to allow doctors to inform the coroner that a death was gambling-related. This also includes provision of gambling related suicide information from coroners’ offices to the Ministry of Justice (to be made publicly available), and issuance of guidance to doctors to be aware of symptoms that may be associated with disordered gambling.
- The report recommends that a more defined protocol for affordability checks that can be shared across operators should be developed to enable operators to better identify customers who are betting more than they can afford. More work needs to be done with UK Finance that would allow gambling payments to be blocked, industrywide. VIP schemes need to be closely monitored – both via affordability and source of funds checks. Furthermore, operator employee wages and bonuses must not be linked to account profitability, and operators must not contact an individual who has self-excluded.
Regulation and disputes:
- Despite expressing reservations about progress made, the report recommends that gambling remains the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) responsibility, albeit with a greater priority given to gambling. Importantly, the report recommends setting up an independent ombudsman to settle disputes between gamblers and operators.
Research, Education, and Treatment
- The report recommended that the levy for research, education, and treatment, which is currently provided by industry on a voluntary basis, should be made mandatory. Operators offering potentially more harmful products should be liable for a higher proportion of the levy. The report also recommended the levy should be administered through consultation with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), to establish an independence currently lacking in the gambling field. Furthermore, operators should provide any data they collect to commissioners and researchers. The report recommends that the British Gambling Prevalence Survey be reinstated, and that a longitudinal study be implemented to better understand the development of gambling-related harm.
- The provision of gambling education in schools should be assessed both for impact and adequacy of gambling education policies.
- The report stressed how the NHS has a duty to treat gambling disorder as any other disorder and recommended that NICE should conduct an independent assessment of current treatment options. Allocation of resources and patient referral pathways between treatment providers needs to be further developed.
- Seeking to address an unusual status quo in the current gambling structure, it was recommended that GambleAware must allow treatment providers who they fund to also raise funds from other sources.
Children and Young people
- The report highlighted the impact of gambling on children and young people as a particular area of concern. Recommendations include raising the minimum age for Lottery products and for any online gambling to 18, and that loot boxes should be regulated as games of chance, and therefore should be treated as gambling.
- A further recommendation was that regular land-based gambling age verification tests should be carried out, with a specific focus on on-course gambling at racecourses. It was also recommended that an appropriate age verification test for online gambling be developed that could be applied industry wide.
- Despite with wealth of international literature on gambling and advertising, the report recommends that more research should be done to understand the impact of gambling advertising. However, the report did recommend that adverts offering ‘start-up’ offers, or creating a sense of urgency should be banned, and direct marketing inducements to individuals should also be banned.
- Further items recommend that gambling operators should not be allowed to sponsor sports teams or advertise at or near sports grounds.
- Perhaps motivated by some FA Cup games only being available through gambling websites in the 2019-20 season, the report recommends that ‘Bet to View’ must be prohibited, and that rights to show football should not be sold to licensed gambling operators.
Almost all recommendations revolve around tighter regulation of the gambling industry and implementation of greater protection for gamblers. Changes would also generate a wide range of research opportunities. It is, however, perhaps somewhat surprising that the report recommends that gambling remains within the remit of the DCMS, rather than be moved under auspices of the Department for Health Care Services (DHCS). Gambling is increasingly being considered a Public Health issue, therefore is it anomalous that a behaviour the Committee consider to be potential harmful to both mental and physical health, be governed by anything other than a health department.
What comes next?
The Government is scheduled to provide a response to the report by the end of September 2020. The response should detail which recommendations will be implemented, and when and how this will be done. Following the Government response, the House of Lords will debate the report, a debate that will shape the gambling landscape in the UK for the foreseeable future.
There will undoubtedly be a lot of interested parties awaiting the outcome.
Dr Sharman is a Research Fellow at the University of East London, and at the National Addiction Centre, Kings College London. His research interests are the influence of within game constructs on gambling behaviour, factors influencing the development and maintenance of disordered gambling behaviour and working with treatment seeking gamblers. His research is primarily funded by the SSA, and he has no links to the gambling industry. Follow him at