UK Labour Party sets out plans for overhaul of gambling regulations

UK Labour Party sets out plans for overhaul of gambling regulations

Friday, September 21, 2018 Posted by News Team
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Plans include new problem gambling treatment services and ban on advertising around sporting events

The UK’s Labour Party has set out a series of planned changes to the regulation of gambling and treatment of addiction that it plans to introduce should it come into power.

The proposals have been formed following a year-long investigation into the UK National Health Service’s methods of treating gambling addiction. This was overseen by the party’s deputy leader and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tom Watson and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth. 

The party aims to introduce a new Gambling Act, which it said would emphasise public health and harm prevention, after admitting that the current act, introduced by the last Labour government in 2007, is no longer fit for purpose. 

The review highlighted a lack of dedicated treatment services for gambling addiction, which Labour plans to address with the development of National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines for sufferers. This priority action will be supported by a national training programme for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IATP) practitioners and other local addiction services. 

Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups will also be expected to take on additional responsibilities for research, education and treatment relating to gambling disorder. 

These new initiatives are to be funded by the current voluntary problem gambling levy, which sees operators expected to contribute 0.1% of revenue to support the problem gambling treatment and research, replaced with a mandatory 1% levy.

Labour will also form a working group linking the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Department of Health and Social Care, helping the government coordinate gambling policy with the treatment of problem gambling. 

A number of prevention measures will be introduced in tandem with the overhaul of problem gambling treatment. Watson and Ashworth’s report points to anecdotal evidence suggesting children are induced to gamble by seeing gambling branding and ads, and proposes a ‘whistle to whistle’ ban on gambling advertising around live sport. This would be see gambling ads restricted for a defined period before and after a match, as well as during the fixture. 

The party will consult with sports governing bodies and professional leagues before implementing this ban, and will consider exemptions for sports linked to gambling, such as horse racing. 

Regulators, clubs and national sports associations will also be expected to commit to limiting gambling advertising on pitch-side advertising. A ban on gambling companies serving as shirt sponsors for Premier League teams, something loudly advocated by Watson, has been softened to a voluntary measure. However, the report adds, Labour would enforce the ban through legislation if clubs failed to comply. 

The party also aims to close what it perceives to be a loophole allowing online gambling products  to be targeted at children. Land-based operators are already required to ensure they do “not deliberately provide facilities for gambling in such a way as to appeal particularly to children or young people”, which is to be extended to online operators. This would effectively see products with imagery that could be of appeal to children - something which the Advertising Standards Authority is cracking down on - being banned.

Social casino games also fall into Labour’s sights, with “online gambling-style games” to be limited to those aged 18 or over. The UK authorities would be given additional powers to ensure such apps are removed from social media platforms if the platform provider does not use appropriate age verification tools.

Players will also be given additional controls to prevent themselves from gambling, with a ban on using credit cards to fund gambling to be supported by a plan to allow users to choose to prevent gambling transactions for debit cards. Labour says it would work with major banks and financial institutions to ensure gamblers could block debit card transactions, using the Merchant Category Codes for gambling companies.

Finally, the party will give councils additional powers to prevent clustering of betting shops on high streets. Planned openings will also be subject to additional scrutiny in the form of a series of impact assessments. Labour will also make having two staff in every shop a mandatory condition of securing a licence for each venue. 

“Current gambling regulation is not up to the job of protecting addicts and those at risk of addiction,” Watson said of the proposals. "Treatment is patchy across the country and too often patients are misdiagnosed and not treated by specialists who can spot the signs of gambling addiction.

“Gambling companies have to take more responsibility for harm caused by their products and contribute more to research and treatment. We must also face up to the negative effect the explosion in gambling advertising has had and act accordingly. It’s what any responsible Government looking to address gambling addiction must do.

“The refusal of the current Government to address any of these issues is letting problem gamblers and their families down,” he added. “Labour’s new policies announced today aim to build a world class framework for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.”

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