Parliamentary report calls for “radical overhaul” of UK Gambling Commission

A report published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has described the Gambling Commission as “toothless.”

The UK Gambling Commission has come under extreme criticism from a group of MPs in a report looking at how gambling regulation is protecting vulnerable people.

The report, which was published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, described the Commission as “toothless” and need of a “radical overhaul.” The report also branded the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) as “complacent.”

The report is based on one evidence session with the DCMS’s Permanent Secretary Sarah Healey and Gambling Commission Chief Executive Neil McArthur and 17 written submissions. While the report is not as in-depth as some recent parliamentary studies into gambling it still makes some sweeping recommendations.

Recommendations from the report

The report made several recommendations which included the implementation of proactive measures for consumer care, such as league tables, a ‘radical’ improvement on the data collected and the strengthening of consumer rights.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “What has emerged in evidence is a picture of a torpid, toothless regulator that doesn’t seem terribly interested in either the harms it exists to reduce or the means it might use to achieve that. The Commission needs a radical overhaul: it must be quicker at responding to problems, update company licence conditions to protect vulnerable consumers and beef up those consumers’ rights to redress when it fails.”

The report also says that the Commission is failing to measure its own effectiveness and that a lack of KPIs for the regulator could be considered embarrassing given how much pressure the regulator puts on the industry for their own KPIs.

The report said: “The Commission has clear overall objectives to ensure that gambling is fair and safe but does not have meaningful indicators to measure whether it is being effective, and therefore to be held to account. The Commission also has limited understanding of the impact of its actions to improve outcomes for consumers.”

“For example, it increased the value of the financial penalties it enforced from £1.4 million in 2014–15 to £19.6 million in 2018–19, but it does not know whether this increase has strengthened the deterrent on operators to break rules. The Commission acknowledges it can do more to improve how it evaluates its impact and is planning work to strengthen its evaluation framework.”

Commission funding may change

The report also recognizes that the funding of the Gambling Commission may soon be changing, and the wider gambling industry is likely to cover the costs.

The report read: “Under the current regime, consolidation within the industry results in a reduction in the Gambling Commission’s budget regardless of the impact on the gambling yield. The Gambling Commission told the Committee that a recent merger could result in a reduction of £400,000 in the Commission’s budget. In contrast to the Commission’s £19m a year, the gambling industry has agreed to spend £60m to treat problem gamblers.

“The government has approached other public health issues on the basis that prevention is better than cure. However, the Department was unwilling to accept the premise that increasing the Commission’s budget to prevent harm would be preferable to spending on treating problem gamblers.

“The Commission and the Department are currently looking at how to improve the regulatory funding model. The Department recognises that it can change licence fees through secondary legislation, but argues that some aspects would require primary legislation, particularly if the Commission needed additional powers.”

The Commission should investigate the impact of fixed-odds betting

The report also recommended that “the Commission should urgently investigate the impact of fixed odds betting that falls under “lottery” legislation and is accessible by 16 and 17-year-olds.”

While the recommendation is unclear, the evidence sessions saw discussion on instant win games that use “fixed odds” terminology, suggesting that the report is referring to scratchcards offered by the National Lottery and society lotteries.

However, there is already a consultation where there is discussion about making these games available to 18-year-olds only.

Hillier added: “The issue of gambling harm is not high up enough the Government’s agenda. The review of the Gambling Act is long overdue and an opportunity to see a step change in how problem gambling is treated. The Department must not keep dragging its feet, we need to see urgent moves on the badly needed overhaul of the system.

“Regulatory failure this comprehensive needs a quick pincer movement to expose the miscreants and strengthen those they harm.”

The BGC responds

Upon the publication of the report, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) issued a statement where it responded to the claims and recommendations made in the report.

In its statement, the BGC said: “The industry is working hard to raise standards to help problem gamblers and those at risk, though we note that both the Regulator and the Government have made it clear that there is no evidence that problem gambling has increased.

“Our industry is already heavily regulated. We mustn’t drive customers to offshore, black market, illegal operators that don’t have any of our safeguards, and we do want to see more action taken against the unregulated industry.

“We are committed to making more voluntary changes and driving up safer gambling standards. We will work with the Gambling Commission and the Government to achieve this, particularly on the forthcoming Review of the Gambling Act.”

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