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  1. Spotlight on Policy
24 June 2021updated 30 Aug 2021 11:38am

The Gambling Act review is long overdue – but it must get the balance right

The gambling review has to protect the vulnerable, help people play responsibly - and ensure industries supported by the gambling and betting sectors continue to thrive, says  Cat McKinnel, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North.

By Catherine McKinnell

The government is reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to assess whether we have the “balance of regulation right” and ensure the legislation is “fit for the digital age”.

I warmly welcome the review. The act is now around 15 years old and has clearly failed to keep pace with technological advances – who could have predicted mobile gambling apps, games, and targeted advertisements back in 2005?

So, reform is needed to protect people – particularly young people and the vulnerable – from gambling addiction and the risks not covered by current regulations. We can’t predict exactly how the betting industry will evolve in the future, but the rapid change of the past 15 years shows we should at least try to future-proof any new regulations.

But we must also ensure that the millions of people who enjoy gambling recreationally can do so safely. According to analysis carried out by Ernst and Young in 2019, Betting and Gaming Council members supported 119,000 jobs, generated £4.5bn in tax for the Treasury, and contributed £7.7bn to the economy in gross value added.

It’s vital that sports closely linked to betting, like horse racing, have a future because here in the north-east horse racing is a long-standing part our community. The Newcastle races have been in their current spot in High Gosforth Park, just five miles from the city centre, since 1882 and it is one the busiest race courses in the country. Newcastle Racecourse hosts over 60 race meetings a year – including the famous Northumberland Plate – and is also a major conference and events venue.

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Like virtually every other sport, Covid-19 has caused huge disruption – and major financial losses – to racing. Nevertheless, this is a sport with a big future and one that is loved by fans throughout Newcastle and the country. In recent years, over £11m has been invested in Newcastle Racecourse, to improve facilities and develop an all-weather Tapeta track – the only floodlit all-weather straight mile in the world. Across the UK, racing supports 85,000 jobs and contributes £3.5bn to the economy.

There are obviously close links between horse racing and the betting industry – through sponsorship, media rights payments and the betting levy. This contributes £350m a year to racing and, as with many sports, is an important source of income.

It’s also welcome that the recently created Betting and Gaming Council, led by my former Labour colleague Michael Dugher, has been proactive in delivering some of the much-needed changes to driving higher standards on safer gambling. I hope this continues, including working with cross-party MPs and sports like horse racing.

We need a regulated and safe gambling industry for the betting industry and the sports that rely on it, and for those at risk of gambling-related harm. Thousands who attend live events, and millions more at home, responsibly enjoy a flutter on the races, and people’s right to spend their money enjoying themselves must be protected. The government must strike the right balance in the review to ensure that the right protections are in place so that gambling can be enjoyed responsibly into the future.