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 Government and watchdog ‘are totally failing problem gamblers 28/06/2020
Jamie Doward
• MPs say regulator is toothless and torpid and needs to focus on prevention of harm not treatment

The UK's gambling regulator and the government department that manages it have an "unacceptably weak understanding" of the harms of gambling, according to a report.

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the "toothless" Gambling Commission also did not have measurable targets for helping problem gamblers.

It called the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport "complacent". The report goes on to critique the failures by the DCMS and the Gambling Commission to help the estimated 395,000 problem gamblers in the UK and a further 1.8 million people who are considered at risk.

The commission responded by insisting it had tightened player protection measures.

In the PAC's report criticism of the approach to preventing problem gambling it said;

"The government has approached other public health issues on the basis that prevention is better than cure," said the report by the committee, which scrutinises the value for money of government projects.

"However, the department was unwilling to accept the premise that increasing the commission's budget to prevent harm would be preferable to spending on treating problem gamblers."

It compared the £19m in licence fees the Gambling Commission gathered in the 2019 financial year with the industry's £11.3bn revenues. The gambling industry itself spends £60m in treating problem gamblers.

“What has emerged in evidence is a picture of a torpid, toothless regulator that doesn’t seem terribly interested in either the harms it exists to reduce or the means it might use to achieve that,” said Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee.

"The commission needs a radical overhaul: it must be quicker at responding to problems, update company licence conditions to protect vulnerable consumers and beef up those consumers' rights to redress when it fails."

In a statement, the industry’s Betting and Gaming Council said gambling firms were working hard to raise standards: “Our industry is already heavily regulated. We mustn’t drive customers to offshore, black-market, illegal operators that don’t have any of our safeguards, and we do want to see more action taken against the unregulated industry.”

Gambling with Lives, which was set up by friends and family of people who have killed themselves because of gambling problems, welcomed the findings. “This report clearly sets out the failure of regulation of gambling operators who push addictive online gambling products to young people via aggressive advertising.”

The Tory MP James Wild, who sits on the committee, said: “The regulator is not at the races – it works at a glacial pace, has no targets to reduce levels of harm, and is behind the curve on online gaming.”

Another Tory MP on the committee, Richard Holden, said: “The lack of any targets or real action to reduce problem gambling is appalling – especially when we know the horrendous impact it can have on individuals and their families.”

A DCMS spokesperson said: "We are absolutely committed to protecting people from the risks of gambling related harm and recognise there is more to do. "We have been clear that we will review the Gambling Act to ensure it is fit for the digital age."