Philip Davies is the Conservative MP for Shipley. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.
The Government’s Gambling Review entered a new phase last week when the 16-week “call for evidence” launched before Christmas drew to a close.
As someone with a keen interest in the industry, the review is something I support – looking again at how the industry is regulated in a digital age is clearly important and necessary.
But as a Conservative, I am instinctively opposed to over-regulation. My message to ministers is a simple one: by all means introduce necessary reforms, but make sure you get them right, and make sure they are based on evidence and evidence alone.
Recent figures from Ernst and Young show exactly what is at stake. According to its report, betting shops, casinos and online gaming support 119,000 jobs and generate £4.5 billion in tax for the Treasury.
When you drill down into those numbers, you find that nearly one fifth of those employed in the industry are under 25, while more than half are under 35. With recent figures suggesting that young people have been hardest hit economically by the pandemic, these details are worth bearing in mind.
And of the 61,000 people employed directly by the regulated industry, 22,000 are based in the North of England and Scotland – something a government that wants to “level up” the North while also strengthening the Union should take seriously.
In all, members of the Betting and Gaming Council contribute £7.7 billion to the economy in gross value added. With the country facing years of economic scarring as a result of Covid-19, these huge numbers are not to be sniffed at.
While we’re on the subject of reports, PWC produced one at the start of February which showed how the online black market – which has none of the regulated industry’s safeguards – is continuing to grow, something which should worry us all.
According to data collected during November and December last year, the amount of money staked with unlicensed operators has doubled from £1.4 billion to £2.8 billion since 2019, while the number of people using these sites has increased from 210,000 to 460,000 over the same period.
It also showed that in countries like Norway and France, where restrictions on licensed operators are tougher than in the UK, the size of the online black market is larger. Again, I’m not opposed to changes to regulation, but there is a danger of inadvertently encouraging customers to head to the black market if the Government gets them wrong.
We should also remember that the black market does not have any age verification or ID checks, meaning there is nothing to stop under 18s using those sites. This is in stark contrast to the regulated sector, which rightly has a zero tolerance approach to under-age betting.
The review is also looking at the role of the Gambling Commission, the industry’s regulator. In my opinion, the body as currently constituted is not fit for purpose and is ripe for major reform. The Gambling Review strikes me as the perfect opportunity to introduce some long overdue changes and to ensure a better distinction is drawn between what matters should be determined by Parliament and those that are rightly for the regulator.
The Government and the Gambling Commission should focus on ensuring targeted interventions are made for customers who are at risk of harm rather than blanket approaches covering every single customer. Not every player is a problem gambler and shouldn’t be treated like one. But let’s take this opportunity to make sure we better protect those who need help and support. The technology available and widely used by gambling operators is the best way to do this and should form a major part of the review.
The Government’s call for evidence may have closed, but the time for listening to that evidence is only just beginning.