The “toothless” gambling regulator and the government department in charge of overseeing the industry are failing to protect consumers, including children and vulnerable adults, a scathing report has warned.
Penalties for companies which are not tackling problem gambling are weak and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been complacent when it comes to ensuring effective regulation in an industry which is expanding and moving online, the Public Accounts Committee said.
Both the department and the Gambling Commission have an “unacceptably weak understanding of the impact gambling harms has on people” the committee said, adding that the bodies’ efforts have “lagged behind developments in the industry, public attitudes and even parliamentary efforts”.
While there are an estimated 395,000 problem gamblers in the UK, according to the committee, there are a further 1.8 million people considered “at risk”.
The fallout from gambling addiction can have a widespread and “devastating” impact, it said, ranging from relationship breakdowns to criminality or even suicide.
The Commission must be “far quicker” in responding to problems and more proactive in demanding the industry treat consumers better, “particularly where it has identified potential problems such as during the Covid-19 lockdown”, the report said.
It called on the regulator to work quickly to improve the data it collects “to know what is going wrong for consumers and develop better information on its own performance to determine whether it is being effective or not”.
The report added: “The Commission’s ability to protect consumers, particularly children and vulnerable adults, is also fundamentally constrained by inflexible funding and an outdated legal and regulatory framework that can reduce regulatory funding the larger the major gambling firms get.”
It said the Government’s manifesto commitment to review the Gambling Act is a chance to consider how to address these issues but also to look at how “efficient and effective regulation” can be better implemented to protect the vulnerable, ensure fair play, and reduce criminality.
Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “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.
“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.”
She added: “The issue of gambling harm is not high enough up the Government’s agenda. The review of the Gambling Act is long overdue and an opportunity to see a step change in how problem gambling is treated.
“The department must not keep dragging its feet; we need to see urgent moves on the badly needed overhaul of the system.
“Regulatory failure this comprehensive needs a quick pincer movement to expose the miscreants and strengthen those they harm.”
Published:28/06/2020 by Radio NewsHub