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Jo Gideon is Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central.
Stoke-on-Trent is rightly proud of its history and heritage, but it is also confident and excited about its future. Those of us lucky enough to live here were not surprised when the city was named the kindest in the UK.
But it’s not just kind – it’s also one of the hardest working. It is this work ethic that gives many, myself included, the belief that Stoke’s best days are ahead.
From ceramics to technology firms, Stoke has always flourished because of the talents and industry of those who live and work here. And while betting and gaming can sometimes be accompanied by negative connotations, Stoke is proud to be home to a global leader like bet365.
Bet365 was founded in 2000, with just 12 employees based out of a portacabin. At their modern global corporate headquarters in the heart of the city, bet365 employs over 5000 people in a myriad of roles, many highly skilled and well paid. Jobs like these are the lifeblood of any community, bringing investment, opportunity and growth.
It is a privilege to witness the positive impact such investment generates first hand, and I know there are other communities and cities, many outside of London, with a similar story to tell, thanks to regulated betting and gaming.
Britain’s betting sector is a global leader, remaining a vastly popular pastime in this country. Around 22.5 million adults place a bet each month, whether on the lottery, in casinos and bingo halls, on well-loved sports like football and horseracing, or online.
Despite vast numbers engaging in betting activity, the rates of problem gambling in the UK remain some of the lowest in Europe at around 0.3 percent of UK adults, according to the independent regulator.
In Stoke-on-Trent and across the UK, you are just as likely to find people backing a horse or taking a punt on their local football team as you are to find them having a pint or a glass of wine in the pub.
Betting is not only popular but a huge pillar of the economy, not just locally in places like Stoke-on-Trent, but nationally too.
Across the country, the betting and gaming industry supports an estimated 110,000 jobs, generates £7.1bn for the economy and contributes £4.2bn in tax for vital frontline services. That investment comes from high streets to hospitality, tourism to technology, in Stoke and across the UK.
However, investment is not guaranteed, and it must be protected.
Right now, the Government is finalising a White Paper which will reset the regulations for the UK’s betting sector, and it is expected to be published within weeks. This review is overdue and necessary. Like any sector, they rely on the Government to employ a framework of rules and laws to ensure responsible corporate behaviour.
I am confident the upcoming White Paper will contain a package of wide-ranging reforms to deliver that framework. However, regulation cannot be so severe that it stymies growth or becomes so onerous for millions of punters that they consider other avenues to bet, including through illegal operators online.
Considerable research shows that the use of the unsafe, unregulated black market is on the rise. One recent study found that the numbers using these sites have doubled in recent years, from 210,000 to over 450,000, while the money staked on them is in the billions.
A recent poll of horseracing fans found that 15 percent either bet or know someone who has bet with a black market bookmaker.
Many say they are being forced there because of low-level, blanket affordability checks. Many find these one-size-fits-all blanket tests intrusive; often they simply do not comply. Industry experts say this has resulted in an £800m black hole in horseracing betting turnover.
Operators have a responsibility to ensure that vulnerable players are protected. It would be a hollow victory if the measures being called for did not protect those at harm but instead drove those most at risk straight to the unscrupulous clutches of black market operators.
There have been a number of unfortunate delays to the White Paper, which are costly for businesses and cause uncertainty for consumers.
For businesses like bet365 to continue contributing to Stoke-on-Trent, the Government must prioritise this White Paper that supports businesses and the communities in which they thrive so they can look to the future with excitement, not anxiety.