“Of all the social evils, it is gambling that is both the most insidious and the most scandalously ignored by government,” said The Independent.
According to the Gambling Commission, more than 50,000 children in this country are problem gamblers; and campaigners link gambling to hundreds of suicides a year. Yet the legislation regulating the industry has scarcely been reformed since 2005.
‘Tackling the scourge’
The Gambling Act was designed to promote legal gambling, said The Guardian. This was dubious in itself; to make matters worse, the Act failed properly to account for the impact of the online revolution, which would see gambling shift from betting shops and casinos to laptops and smartphones. Today, with a virtual Las Vegas in their pocket, “almost anyone can gamble cashlessly” wherever they are, using services provided by multinational companies whose ads are everywhere – online, on stadium hoardings, in TV ad breaks, on footballers’ tops (though the Premier League has agreed to phase these out on shirt fronts).
Last year, British punters spent £14bn. Last week, the Government finally published its plans to tackle this “scourge”, said The Times. The proposals in its White Paper include “light touch” financial checks for people who lose £125 net in a month or £500 in a year, and more detailed ones for those who lose £1,000 in a day or £2,000 in 90 days. It also suggests stake limits for online slot machines, and the creation of a mandatory levy on betting firms to fund addiction research and treatment services. Of course, these proposals raise legitimate questions about people’s right to spend their own money as they see fit. But others may think that the gambling industry – whose lobbying efforts are known to be extensive – has got off rather lightly.
‘Bring on the nanny state’
It’s being taken as read that the law was in need of a fix, said Christopher Snowdon on CapX. But the 2005 act was actually drawn up with online gambling in mind. The rate of problem gambling has not gone up since then; and at 0.3%, it is low relative to those in other countries. Stake limits may be a good idea, but they must be internationally competitive, or people will simply turn to unregulated sites overseas. As for financial checks, these sound complicated and intrusive. Besides, why should betting firms have to ensure that their customers can afford their services? There is no such onus on sellers of sports cars, or online stockbrokers.
The reason is clear, said Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator, when you consider cases such as that of Chris Bruney, who killed himself in 2017, aged 25, after losing £119,000. Instead of closing his account, betting firms gave him cash bonuses to keep going. “Nanny state? Bring it on.”