UK Gaming Regulator Blasted for Heavy-Handed Approach to Gambling Addiction

Posted on: January 24, 2022, 12:44h. 

Last updated on: January 24, 2022, 01:56h.

Lawmakers in the UK are divided about the gaming industry. Some believe that the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) is out of line for tackling gambling addiction.

John Spellar, Labour MP
John Spellar, Labour MP and member of the APPG on betting and gaming. He and others in the group feel the UKGC is going too far with its regulations of the gaming industry. (Image: Birmingham Live)

The UK’s all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on betting and gaming isn’t against responsible gambling. It’s against irresponsible responsible gambling initiatives. The UKGC’s programs to crack down on problem gambling fall into this group, according to the APPG.

For the past several years, the UKGC has repeatedly sought new controls on the gaming industry. If the regulator isn’t going after fixed-odds betting terminals, it is responding to calls to “radically” reduce the maximum stake allowed in any wager.

Parliamentary Group Unhappy with UKGC’s Power

The APPG on betting and gaming conducted a review last year of the UKGC, but never released its full report. That didn’t stop the Guardian from getting ahold of it. The report asserts that there is an “urgent need” for an overhaul of the UKGC, claiming that its methods are too strict. At the pace it’s going, the gaming regulator runs the risk of destroying the UK’s gambling industry.

The report asserts that the UKGC is going beyond its authority and is “bullying” industry players, causing “mental harm.” The only course the country’s gaming industry is on now is one that will lead straight to an increase in offshore or black market gambling.

As a result of its investigation, the APPG wants UK legislators to take action. They believe it’s time for the government to enact “special measures” to reel in the UKGC and determine if the regulator should continue to function “as it is.” It doesn’t specify what the special measures will be.

Data previously supplied by the Guardian indicated that the UK’s problem gambling rate was around 0.7% in 2020. Statista put the figure at just over 0.43% in 2021. With that decrease, it would seem existing controls are working. Adding more controls seems to be irrelevant.

One industry insider, who wasn’t named, was quoted by the Financial Times as saying that, often, safer gambling efforts are “a little light show.” He added, “There is a tendency in the gambling industry to exaggerate the effectiveness of what you’re doing when you don’t really know.”

APPG Receives Backlash

Some of the APPG’s members are being called out over apparent bias. Accusations are flying that they received thousands of pounds of freebies through betting companies. This is despite the fact that this is against parliamentary rules.

On Sunday, the APPG’s vice chair, Labour MP Conor McGinn, acknowledged that he had resigned from the group last week because of the report. McGinn told the Guardian that he did not have any involvement in writing the report and that he didn’t agree or endorse the report.

Scott Benton, a Conservative MP, accepted £7,494.60 (just over $10,000) worth of tickets last summer to Euro 2020 and Ascot. The tickets were reportedly provided by Entain subsidiary Ladbrokes, and the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).

John Spellar, Labour MP, was given £2,835.80 ($4,100) in trips to Lord’s and Euro 2020. Those were said to be funded by Flutter, Paddy Power’s owner, and the BGC.

Aaron Bell, Conservative MP and former Bet365 employee, attended three Euro 2020 matches with Entain, Flutter, and Gamesys. The tickets were worth £6,955.60 ($9,200). He stated to the Guardian that he had declared all hospitality quickly and transparently last year.

Not Tough Enough

The debate over how to balance responsible gambling with freedoms is far from others. There are others who believe the UKGC isn’t strict enough. One is Matt Zarb-Cousin, the founder of Clean Up Gambling.

The campaign group fights vigorously for stricter controls on the UK’s gambling rules. He calls the APPG’s report “ludicrous.”

However, he also shows that the quote by the unnamed individual to the Financial Times, to some degree, has merit. He asserts that online gambling growth “has increased exponentially” under the UKGC’s oversight.

Statista data shows that, in the first nine months of 2020, 21.6% of those 25-34 years old gambled online. A year later, for the same nine-month period, the figure was 25.2%, hardly an “exponential” increase.

In fact, the 16-24-year-old age group saw a 0.8% reduction when comparing the two periods. The 35-44 age group saw a decrease of 1%.

The government will publish the results from its review of gambling laws in the coming weeks. The UKGC is likely going to play an important role in finalizing the proposals. However, the debate over where the UK gaming industry heads is far from being finalized.