QAAD: Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs

Public Issues: Gambling

News

The maximum Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) stake will be reduced from £100 to £2 in April 2019, following the government’s decision in May 2018.  This was warmly welcomed by QAAD and our ecumenical colleagues who have long campaigned for this reform.  This will reduce these addictive machines’ impact on problem gamblers and result in a significant reduction, if not the disappearance, of FOBTs altogether.  The decision demonstrates the government’s determination to reform gambling in the face of considerable industry pressure to maintain the status quo.

In 2018, QAAD responded to the Department for Digital, Culture and Sport’s consultation on reforming gaming machines, including the maximum stake for FOBTs, and wider social responsibility measures (see Submissions below). We are pleased that the widespread campaign, including QAAD Director Helena Chamber’s extensive research and representation in this area, succeeded in persuading the government to reduce the maximum stake.

It has been widely acknowledged that this measure alone will not resolve problem gambling.  There is evidence that some providers are actively marketing alternative products and anticipate a growth in online business – already 50% of the market.

What is our perspective on gambling issues as Quakers?

QAAD approaches gambling in the same way as alcohol, by looking at the evidence base and working from our values of care and inclusivity.

Why are we so concerned?

QAAD and many others argued against the de-regulatory effects of the 2005 Gambling Act, because there is evidence from other countries that when participation in gambling increases, the numbers of problem gamblers also tends to rise.

Fast, repetitive forms of gambling (such as slot machines and online gambling) are most strongly associated with higher levels of problem gambling – and this risk is increased when they are highly accessible.  We have argued for tighter controls on the forms of gambling that meet these criteria, and for detailed, targeted research into their effects.  We have expressed our concern that, too often, ‘the problem’ has been defined as being located within individuals, with insufficient focus given to specific products and environmental factors.

QAAD’s action on gambling

QAAD became particularly focused on the issue when the Gambling Act of 2005 liberalised law and regulation.  We were one of the faith-based groups that gave evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee which considered the Act.

Since that time, we have continued to be involved as stakeholders in policy discussions, working collaboratively with other faith group representatives to argue for measures that would reduce the risks and harms of problem gambling.  We have also responded to a large number of consultations; sat on committees convened by the Gambling Commission (the gambling regulator); made representations to elected representatives; and given oral evidence to Select Committees in 2011 and 2013.

QAAD has recommended that problem gambling needs to be tackled strategically within a public health framework and is pleased that the government now holds this view – and that it has commissioned Public Health England to conduct a review of research into gambling related harm. Progress indeed, but there is much work still to do.

Specific Areas of Concern

Children and young people

We have strong concerns about the level of gambling advertising on TV, online, and via mobile phone apps, particularly at and during sporting events and therefore available to children and young people.

Another area of concern is children’s exposure to ‘virtual gambling’ for tokens or ‘loot chests’ during online gaming.  Whilst no money is exchanged, it has been suggested that this may be seen as ‘grooming’ children and young people to start engaging in gambling behaviour with a view to encouraging their participation in mainstream gambling as adults.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)

One of our strongest concerns as regards ‘terrestrial gambling’ has been FOBTs which are located in bookmakers.  Although a relatively small percentage (around 5%) of people use them, they are associated with a disproportionately high percentage of referrals to support agencies for problem gamblers.  This disparity is a clear indicator of risk and harm.

Betting shops tend to be most heavily clustered in poorer areas and research also indicates problem rates are highest amongst people with the lowest incomes.  At present, local councils have very limited powers to refuse licences on the grounds of density, even if they have several betting shops already and even if there is strong community feeling against them.

Wider concerns about problem gambling

When the Gambling Act was passed in 2005, it was recognised that there was the potential for an increase in problem gambling, and that resources would be needed to research and address this.

An arrangement was made whereby the gambling industry funds research, education and treatment (RET) for problem gambling on a voluntary basis through a body called GambleAware.  While some parts of the industry have responded and donate, this has been patchy and the sums concerned are small in relation to profits.  For example, in 2016-17 the ‘Gross Gaming Yield’ of the industry as a whole was £13.8bn, whilst the industry’s contributions to GambleAware were £8m.

We think that the disbursal of the funds raised should be conducted in a way that is entirely independent of the industry, in order to avoid conflicts of interest.

We propose:

  • Increased involvement by the Department of Health with a view to ensuring that problem gambling is placed functionally within a public health framework.
  • Public health to be used as a criterion for licensing authorities, to ensure that proliferation cannot occur without local population needs and vulnerabilities being taken into account.
  • A substantial increased in funding for treatment/advice services, including for under-age problem gamblers.
  • That measures be taken to protect children from advertising via the internet.
  • Evidence-based anticipation of, and proactive research into, the problems arising from riskier forms of gambling, and the adoption of preventative measures to address them.
  • In this context, internet gambling needs particular focus.
  • That there should be no gambling advertising before the 9pm watershed, including sports events.
  • A regular national Prevalence Study that is directly comparable with those of 1999, 2004 and 2010, to ensure that trends are captured and fully analysed.
  • A statutory levy to fund research, education and treatment, and structures to ensure that funds are completely independently managed.

Submissions

Over the years, QAAD has contributed numerous submissions to the Department of Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), the Gambling Commission, and other bodies concerned with gambling policy.  We include the most recent below.  For further details of submissions relating to particular topics, or to request a hard copy, please contact Alison Mather.