QAAD: Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs

Public Issues: Gambling

NEWS

The government’s decision on May 17th to reduce the maximum FOBT stake to from £100 to £2 was warmly welcomed by QAAD and its ecumenical colleagues who have long campaigned for this reform.  This will reduce these addictive machines’ impact on problem gamblers, and demonstrates the government’s determination to reform gambling in the face of considerable industry pressure to maintain the status quo.

The ecumenical group responded to the announcement by issuing the following joint statement:

Today a group of Churches and faith-based organisations have issued a welcome to the Government’s response to the review of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).  In a statement, The Salvation Army, The Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, The Church of Scotland, The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Evangelical Alliance UK, Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, CARE, The Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England said:

‘FOBTs are a serious problem in society and for local communities, families and individuals. Evidence links them to patterns of addictive behaviour, large financial losses and anti-social and criminal behaviour. Today we warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to cap maximum stakes on FOBTs at £2.’

‘We are clear that solving problem gambling goes much broader than responding to the challenge of FOBTs. We therefore welcome the player protection measures being taken forward by the Gambling Commission.’

‘In welcoming this proposed action we want to make it clear that in addition to the major challenge presented by FOBTs, there are also wider issues associated with gambling that require serious political commitment to address. Therefore we note that, at this stage, new powers to oversee gambling are not been given to Local Authorities. We ask the Government to revisit this.’

‘We also note that the Government states that ‘Gambling-related harm is a health Issue’, and welcome the announcement that Public Health England (PHE) is to conduct an evidence review of health aspects of gambling-related harm to inform action on prevention and treatment.’

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. QAAD has long recommended that problem gambling should be seen as a public health issue and is pleased that the government now holds this view and that it is commissioning Public Health England to conduct a review of research into gambling related harm. Progress indeed, but there is much work still to do.

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. 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 Gambling Act. We have continued to be involved as stakeholders in policy discussions since that time, working collaboratively with other faith group representatives.  We have also responded to a large number of consultations, sat on committees convened by the Gambling Commission (which regulates gambling), made representations to elected representatives, and given oral evidence to Select Committees in 2011 and 2013.

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.  Since then, QAAD has worked with other faith-based groups to argue for measures that would reduce the risks of problem gambling.

Fast, repetitive forms of gambling (such as slot machines and electronic/internet gambling) are most strongly associated with higher levels of problem gambling – and this risk is increased if they are highly accessible.  We have argued for tighter controls on the forms of gambling that meet these criteria, and for detailed research into their effects.

Areas of Specific Concern: Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

One of our strongest concerns as regards ‘terrestrial gambling’ has been Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).  These are located in bookmakers and, until the recent government decision (see above) had very high stakes of up to £100 for a single bet. FOBTs are used by a relatively small percentage of people (roughly 5%) who gamble but are associated with a disproportionately high percentage of referrals to helping agencies for problem gamblers (30% to Gamcare in 2014, for example).  This disparity is a clear indicator of risk and harm. Research from 2014 showed high levels of problem gambling among regular ‘loyalty card holders’: 23% were problem gamblers, 24% were classed as ‘moderate risk’ gamblers, 24% were low risk, and only 29% were classified as non-problem gamblers.

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.

In early 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. We are pleased that the widespread campaign, including QAAD Director Helena Chamber’s extensive research and representation in this area, has succeeded in persuading the government to reduce the maximum FOBT stake to £2. This is likely to lead to a significant reduction, if not the disappearance, of FOBTs following the implementation of the reduction.

Children and young people

We have strong concerns about the level of advertising for gambling, which is particularly in evidence at sporting events and therefore available to children and young people.  Another area that needs to be tackled is children being exposed to gambling advertising and virtual gambling for tokens or ‘loot chests’ on the internet.

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 into problem gambling on a voluntary basis, which is now done through a body called the Responsibility in Gambling Trust.  While some parts of the industry have responded and donate, this seems to have been patchy and the sums are small in relation to profits (for example the ‘Gross Gaming Yield’ of the industry as a whole was £7.1 billion in 2013-14, while funds for research education and treatment were £6.3 million).

We also 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.

These points link with our view that problem gambling needs to be tackled strategically within a public health framework. At present the Department of Health has little involvement in policy; we believe it ought to have a much more active and leading role.

We propose:

For FOBTs

  • That local authorities be allowed to refuse gambling licences on the grounds of density, population vulnerability, or an imbalance in their High Streets.
  • Specific research on problem rates among FOBT gamblers generally.
  • That there should be no gambling advertising before the 9 p.m. watershed, including on sports events.
  • That measures be taken to protect children from advertising via the internet.

General measures

  • 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 as a criterion for licensing authorities, to ensure that proliferation cannot occur without local population needs and vulnerabilities being taken into account.
  • Far more substantial funding for treatment/advice services, including for under-age problem gamblers.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 Gambling Commission and other bodies who are concerned with gambling policy, including the Department of Culture Media and Sport.  We include three here; for further details of submissions relating to particular topics, please contact Alison Mather.