MP accuses gambling industry of failing to present alternatives

The UK government is expected to publish its gambling white paper imminently.
The UK government is expected to publish its gambling white paper imminently.

In a debate in the House of Commons, Carolyn Harris said the industry had not offered viable alternatives to a “broken state of affairs”.

UK.- British MPs held an almost two-hour debate in the House of Commons this week ahead of the delayed publication of the government’s gambling white paper. Anti-gambling campaigner and Labour MP Carolyn Harris led the debate commenting on the big response to government’s consultation on gambling legislation.

Harris, who chair’s the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling-Related Harm, accused gambling operators of seeking to avoid an evidence-led debate on reforms and of failing to offer viable alternatives to fix a “broken” system.

She said: “For years, colleagues across the House and I have faced an onslaught of opposition from the gambling industry, for which the status quo is the perfect mix of outdated legislation, weak sanctions and limited scope. The reforms that we propose would fix that broken state of affairs.

“Rather than enter into a proper dialogue with those who are looking to reform and improve our gambling laws, the industry has come forward with very little in the way of remedies.

“It has resorted to playground name-calling, labelling those who are seeking improvements and reform as prohibitionists and, in my case, a Methodist. As a Welsh woman, I do not consider that an insult. That response is simply not good enough.”

Harris warned MPs gambling operators could not define the industry’s problems as historical given recent penalties issued by the Gambling Commission. She also said operators were in danger of fear-mongering by bringing up the fear of economic harm, job losses and tax shortfalls if regulations are tightened.

Referring to the introduction of a cap on fixed-odds betting terminals in 2020, she said: “The industry says that reforms will harm the economy and result in job losses, which is exactly the same argument it used ahead of the reduction in the stake on fixed-odds betting terminals.

“Despite warnings from the industry that 4,500 of the 9,000 betting shops would close as a result of reducing the stake to £2 a spin, 8,000 betting shops are still open today, and many are still clustered in some of our most deprived communities.”

Affordability concerns

The APPG is calling for the introduction of a £100 affordability check as a safeguard across all licensed operators, something the government previously appeared to have ruled out.

Harris said: “Putting a limit of £100 a month on net deposits is a sensible, proportionate and, more importantly, evidence-based position, especially when we consider that the average level of disposable income in Britain is £450 a month and that 73 per cent of slot players and 85 per cent of non-slot players lose £50 or less a month.

“A soft cap at £100 is therefore low enough to enable the vast majority of gamblers to continue without any checks whatever, as the vast majority of gambling activity occurs below this level.”

Another APPG member, the Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, supported Harris’s call and insisted it was especially urgent now in the wake of rising inflation, which is generating affordability concerns.

He said: “The honourable Member for Swansea East is quite right that we must move now and swiftly. I urge the government to come forward and not to listen to the shrill voices that surround them at times, telling them ‘this is going to destroy and damage an industry, and it is going to lead to huge hardships and problems’.”

He added: “Given the level of profits and the private money that is taken out of the industry, frankly, if it had common sense it would plough that money back in and then not need to suffer anything at all.

“The time is overdue; The Minister responsible for this issue—the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my honourable Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) has already explained his intentions.

“It is time for the gambling industry to recognise that the time is up, change is coming—it has to come—and it is not too soon, given the lives that have been lost and the damage that has been done to families. I say to my colleagues, do not continue to defend its bad practices.”

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