Brigid Simmonds is Chairman of the Betting and Gaming Council.
We are all feeling the impact of the rising cost of living, and the economic difficulties we face. That is the same for workers, families, homeowners and businesses. The regulated betting and gaming industry, and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, is no different.
But while we are in the grip of this universal financial squeeze, businesses in this sector are also operating with one eye on the long-awaited Government review of outdated gambling regulations.
The White Paper is expected within weeks and its potential contents have sparked fierce public debates. But amid these noisy rows the significant financial contribution our members make to UK Plc often gets ignored. At a time when the Government’s finances are in such a parlous state, it would be reckless for MPs to make this mistake.
Every month around 22.5 million adults in the UK buy a lottery ticket, bet on sports like racing or football in the bookies, play bingo, visit a casino or play online. And with problem gambling rates low at 0.3 per cent, the overwhelming majority clearly do so responsibly and safely.
The industry that supports this is hugely popular, very well-regulated, and a genuine world leader. A new study released this week by EY for the BGC confirmed our members support 110,000 jobs in the UK, generate £7.1bn for the economy and raise £4.2bn in tax every year.
This investment is not just from big tech online operators like Flutter, Entain and bet365, but on our struggling high streets through bookmakers and in casinos, a key pillar of the UK’s recovering tourism and hospitality sector.
These are impressive numbers when you consider it has not been an easy time for our sector. Hot on the heels of Covid, energy prices have soaring up 40 per cent more than last year. According to EY, over 2,000 bookmakers have been forced to close since 2019, with the loss of scores of jobs.
This has happened while the anti-gambling lobby claimed gambling is exploding across the land. It is not. In fact, the numbers betting and gaming have stayed steady for many years according to the independent regulator, as have the number of problem gamblers. But this has not prevented scare stories claiming betting and gaming and problem gambling is growing exponentially.
These myths feed into commonly held narratives, which are fundamentally incorrect. The World Cup is a prime example. In recent weeks we have been warned an increase in betting advertising during the tournament would fuel problem gambling.
In fact, the number of television ads during the Euro’s fell 47 per cent compared to the last World Cup, thanks mainly to the Whistle to Whistle ban, a voluntary measure by our members to suspend betting ads during live football matches before the watershed. As a result we can confidently predict there will be less TV ads at this World Cup than at the last.
However, the facts rarely prevent this relentless hostility. And it is, in part, prompting some of our largest members to pursue opportunities in emerging markets overseas, in places like the US and Brazil. These markets understand what investment from betting and gaming can do for public finances.
If this continues it will inevitably prompt some operators to question where they place their businesses to make the most of a world of opportunity.
Our members know the job facing the prime minister and chancellor is unprecedented. No one would envy their in-trays. But there is one clear way they can help, rather than hinder the public purse. And that is not to take a sector currently filling the Treasury’s coffers and shackle it with draconian regulations that stunt growth and investment while threatening jobs.
From what we see overseas, we know overbearing regulations, like blanket affordability checks, and bans on advertising don’t help problem gambling rates.
But they do force punters to the growing unsafe, unregulated gambling black market. The numbers gambling there have doubled in recent years and the amount staked is in the billions. These sites don’t have any player protection rules, they don’t invest millions in sport like our members, and don’t pay a penny in tax.
If our members are constricted further, with no freedom to compete and invest, it is not just they and their customers which will suffer. It will be the Treasury. This industry is ready to play its part in growing the local and national economies – we look for a Government ready to recognise that.