Brigid Simmonds OBE is the Chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council
Another hectic political season has come to a close, and MPs have left Westminster, returning home for summer recess. Like many of us, their thoughts will turn to holidays, and the chance to recharge their batteries – no doubt with a very close eye on who wins the race to be the next PM. It is regrettable that they leave with the Gambling White Paper still unfinished. But that does not stop the BGC’s important work to raise standards, which goes on undeterred despite the delays.
The BGC was established to drive the kind of meaningful change that delivers on behalf of businesses and their customers, protecting the vulnerable and those at risk while not unfairly impacting on the enjoyment of the majority who bet safely. We want Britain to carry on boasting a truly world class betting and gaming industry. One that plays an important part in the communities in which it operates, creating jobs, investment and prosperity.
At the heart of this work is our determination to keep building a culture of safer gambling. Since the BGC was founded in 2019, together with our members, we have introduced scores of new safer betting and gaming measures, with more planned.
All of this work combined, is an investment in improved standards which is delivering safer gambling dividends. While the Gambling White paper will bring further changes, much of which we strongly support and have long campaigned for, these changes need to be proportionate, well thought through, and targeted on those who are vulnerable and on the 0.2 per cent of the population who are problem gamblers.
We don’t want to do anything that inadvertently drives any of the 22.5 million adults who enjoy a bet each month away from the regulated industry and into the arms of the unsafe, unregulated, and growing black market online.
That’s why we support enhanced spending checks online, but don’t want to see the Government enforce intrusive checks that compel punters to share private financial details. That risks driving punters to the illegal black market, threatening funding for sports such as horse racing which currently receives about £350 million in funding from our industry.
We also support changes to modernise casino regulation. However, there is a danger that the current draft White Paper will mean over half of the UK’s casinos will be disqualified from modernisation plans because they are deemed too small. If reports are to be believed, 70 of the UK’s 121 casinos will get no benefit from the relaxation of regulations, making them less, not more competitive.
These are issues that still need to be tackled, but that has not stopped the BGC forging ahead with our own work to maintain world beating standards, especially on safer gambling. Our members have committed to ensuring 20 per cent of all TV advertising is safer gambling messaging – backed by our ground-breaking Take Time to Think campaign. Now players are encouraged to take up options like deposit limits and time-outs. It’s encouraging to note the number of customers setting deposit limits has now increased by 20 per cent. Consistency of information on safer gambling tools across all our members has been achieved through a new Code worked on with the charity GamCare.
Meanwhile, BGC members introduced new guidelines on advertising on the biggest social media platforms, restricting paid for ads to those aged 25 and over for most sites. It was a significant step. Results from operators showed a 96 per cent drop in views of social media advertisements by those aged 18 to 24 in the final three months of 2020, compared to the same period the year before.
The BGC is also working with social media platforms and search companies to find ways of allowing individuals to unsubscribe from betting adverts, a further measure that will continue this important work by our members. Meanwhile on TV, the whistle-to-whistle ban on betting commercials during live sport before the watershed has led to a 97% reduction in the number of young people viewing betting ads and a 47 per cent reduction in ads between the World Cup and Euros 2020. We also introduced a Code to stop football clubs displaying ads on their websites showing betting odds.
Away from advertisements, our biggest members have voluntarily committed to contribute an additional £100m to Research, Education and Treatment programmes to tackle problem gambling. This contribution makes a real difference, giving excellent charities the funding security they need to plan ahead.
In addition, our members have provided £10m in funding for a Young People’s Gambling Harm Prevention Programme, delivered to children, teachers and youth workers across the UK by leading charities YGAM and GamCare.
Our members have also enforced a credit card ban on products and new codes on VIP schemes which have seen thousands of these accounts closed. They have also introduced changes to games design for slot machines to make it easier for customers to understand game characteristics and remove features which encouraged problematic play.
When Parliament returns in the September, they will have plenty of work to do. The White Paper must be delivered swiftly to ensure the industry, which supports almost 120,000 jobs and raises £4.5bn for the Treasury, is placed on a sure footing for a sustainable future. But whatever happens in Westminster, and whoever is PM, you can be assured, the goal and purpose of the BGC will not change. We know what we need to achieve, and that work to raise standards goes on