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Updated by Dale Shelabarger
Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith has called for the Gambling Commission to be scrapped and VIP casino packages to be banned altogether. Writing on the Parliamentary news platform, Politics Home, he also demanded that the Government take bolder action in preventing problem gambling.
Duncan Smith aired his criticisms as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport launched an official review of current gambling legislation. The findings will form the basis of future amendments to the Gambling Act 2005, which many commentators believe is no longer fit for purpose.
The veteran politician praised the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Gambling Related Harm (for which he served as Vice-Chair), for pressuring the Government into the review. But he suggested that further action was now needed to prevent further ‘devastation’:
‘The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Gambling Related Harm has been exemplary in its…efforts. We have been calling for reform of our gambling laws for many years and so I very much welcome the launch of the long-awaited gambling review published this week.’
Calls for evidence were published last week and provided operators with some early indications of the areas to be reviewed. They include online player protection, advertising, consumer redress, and age limit/verification. The powers and resources of the Gambling Commission will also be closely scrutinised as the regulator struggles to adapt to a volatile and rapidly-evolving sector.
However, Iain Duncan Smith demanded that the Government look beyond ‘powers and resources’ and actually consider replacing the UKGC with an independent regulatory body. It’s not the first time that the Tory MP has criticised the UKGC. In January, he lambasted the commission for consulting GVC Holdings about establishing a code of conduct for high-rolling players.
Although there have been concerted efforts within the gambling industry to restructure VIP programmes, IDS expressed his hopes that the review would lead to an outright ban of all schemes. In his view, VIP packages were ‘the most pernicious aspects of gambling’ because they ‘deliberately forced gamblers into high levels of debt.
Advertising and sports sponsorship is another area that will be evaluated by the DCMS. According to a report by Gamble Aware, an estimated £1.5 billion is spent on advertising by operators, with around 80% accounting for online promotions. In the same report, it was found that young people experience high levels of exposure to advertising across multiple channels. Widespread advertising in sport has also been caused for concern in some quarters. A recent House of Lords report, Gambling Harm – Time for Action went so far as to recommend a total ban on football shirt sponsorship.
Said Iain Duncan Smith:
‘Our televisions are bombarded with gambling advertising and children are exposed to gambling on screens, football shirts, and even in video games with the evidence suggesting that this normalises gambling in young minds. This must stop.’
Duncan Smith lauded the recent move to increase the minimum age of National Lottery participation to 18, suggesting that the move heralded ‘the beginning of a real sea change in (attitudes) towards gambling issues.
But Iain Duncan Smith stressed that pressure brought about by the gambling industry, which he described as ‘rampant’, had also cowed the government into backing down on making ‘bold changes’. In addition, IDS cited the furore over fixed-odds betting terminals, asserting that the ‘industry lobbying machine’ was already attempting to undermine the current review.
‘In the past when the government has proposed change, the huge weight of the gambling industry has brought to bear on their plans and the government has backed down from making the bold changes that are needed. We saw this over the debacle of reforming fixed-odds betting terminals and already the industry lobbying machine is in action to limit the impact of this review.’
In concluding, Ian Duncan Smith submitted that gambling addiction was the ‘public health crisis of our time’ – a rather odd departure from current Government policy relating to the COVID-19 absurdity. And in borrowing a disquieting term currently being bandied about by affluent elites, he argued that the industry was in need of a ‘reset’.
This notwithstanding, Ian Duncan Smith’s staged diatribe is a shot across the bow of the UK Gambling Commission. These types of articles are seldom written ‘by accident’, especially when they’re penned in conjunction with a major Governmental review. It seems that state paternalism is creeping into all facets of British society.