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28 February 2020

UK Gambling Commission failing to keep pace with technology, report warns

There are an estimated 1.8 million "at risk" gamblers and 395,000 "problem" gamblers, the National Audit Office says.

By Rohan Banerjee

The government and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) have been urged to do more to limit the risks attached to the gambling industry.

In a new report, the National Audit Office (NAO), which examines the effectiveness of public bodies, called for tighter regulation on the nature and frequency of gambling-related advertising.

The licenced gambling industry has grown by 57 per cent in the past ten years, the report highlighted, thanks to a boom in online and smartphone access.

While the UKGC has increased the rate of fines it imposes, from £1.4m in 2014-15 to almost £20m last year, it has been unable to respond to digital trends. These include a 56 per cent increase in advertising spending by gambling companies between 2014 and 2017, with most of that figure focusing on social media channels, rather than television or in print.

“The Gambling Commission is a small regulator in a huge and fast-evolving industry,” Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said in a statement. “While the Commission has made improvements, gambling regulation lags behind the industry.”
The NAO’s report suggested that the UKGC’s £19m annual budget, which is paid for via fees by gambling operators for licences, was insufficient for keeping pace with an industry that took an estimated £11.3bn from customers in 2019 alone.

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According to the NAO, the commission is “constrained by factors outside its control”, such as “inflexible funding” and a “lack of evidence” as to how gambling affects players’ wellbeing.

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The NAO’s report said that betting companies need to be incentivised to make player welfare a priority, pointing out that 1.8m people in the UK are “at risk” gamblers, and that 395,000 are already classified as “problem” gamblers. Of these, 55,000 are children aged 11 to 16.

Gambling addiction, the NAO emphasised, can be linked to wider mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.

The report also expressed concerns over gambling’s relationship with sport, particularly football, and called for a review into partnerships between teams and betting companies. Currently, 10 of 20 Premier League football teams are sponsored by a gambling firm.