Gambling Harm—Time for Action Contents

Gambling Harm—Time for Action

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.Half the adults in this country gamble at least once a month.1 A third of a million of them are problem gamblers. Although they are fewer than 1% of the adult population, they contribute an astonishing 25% of the profits of the gambling industry; and the 4% of adults who are at low or medium risk of becoming problem gamblers contribute a further 35%.2 The rate of problem gambling among 11–16 year old children is twice as high as for adults; for boys alone it is three times as high.3

2.With the increase in online gambling, the problem can only get worse. In 2012, 14% of people took part in online gambling;4 seven years later the figure was 21%, half as many again.5 The choice of games is bewildering, and the house edge generally higher. There is no limit on when or where individuals can gamble, age is harder to verify and supervision is difficult.

3.The gambling companies have no incentive to drive customers to financial ruin,6 but they have every incentive to keep them gambling, even when problems are looming. The greater the problem, the higher the profit.

4.For every problem gambler, six other people are adversely affected by gambling-related harm: a total of some two million people.7 This can lead to the breakup of families, the loss of employment, loss of homes, crime, financial ruin and, in the worst cases, suicide. There is also a cost to society: lost tax receipts, benefit claims, welfare, and the cost to the NHS and the criminal justice system.

5.The much publicised position of the gambling industry is that the great majority of gamblers gamble within their means and spend no more on gambling than they would on any other activity which gives them enjoyment. It adds zest to their lives, and particularly to their enjoyment of sport. They should be free to do so. Added to which, the industry stresses the benefits to society, to employment, to tourism and to taxation.

6.These are two very different sides of the same coin, and neither can be looked at in isolation. Our task has been to reconcile the two.

7.We hope that our recommendations will make gambling safer for all, but no less enjoyable for those who do participate safely.

One inquiry, three committees

8.In December 2018 the Bishop of St Albans wrote to the Chair of the Liaison Committee suggesting that a Special Inquiry Committee should be set up to investigate these conflicting images of gambling. The Liaison Committee agreed and recommended to the House that a Special Inquiry Committee should be appointed to examine the social and economic impact of the gambling industry.8

9.Special Inquiry Committees like ours are usually set up shortly after the beginning of a Parliamentary session in May and are required to report to the House shortly before the end of that session. On 13 June 20199 the Committee was set up, with a requirement that it should report by 31 March 2020.10

10.The Committee met for the first time on 18 June 2019 and adopted a work programme which included taking evidence during more than 20 sessions over 13 meetings, concluding on 10 December 2019. This would have left three months for drafting, considering and agreeing our report before the end of March 2020. Our programme was however disrupted by three subsequent events. The prorogation on 10 September 2019 forced us to cancel two evidence sessions. The subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court that the prorogation was unlawful meant that the Committee had not after all been dissolved and did not need to be reappointed. It was otherwise with the prorogation on 6 October, which forced us to cancel two further meetings involving four evidence sessions. This time the Committee was indeed dissolved, and had to be reappointed on 22 October before it could meet again. After meeting only twice, on 5 November the Committee was yet again dissolved for the general election, and was not reappointed until 22 January 2020. The order reappointing us required us to report by 23 June 2020.

11.Although, technically, three different Committees have therefore been involved, they have had the same membership,11 and our order of appointment has allowed us to treat the evidence given to any of them as evidence given to us. When in this report we refer to “the Committee” or “this Committee”, unless the context otherwise requires, we are referring to all three Committees collectively.

Our working methods

12.At our second meeting on 25 June 2019 we agreed a Call for Evidence12 which was circulated widely. By 3 October we had received evidence from 89 persons and bodies. We have since received 39 items of supplementary written evidence. On 3 July we held an informal seminar off the record at which we heard the views of a number of experts. On 10 July we were given a presentation of different types of online gambling.

13.We held our first three oral evidence sessions in July 2019. However, the disruption to which we have referred meant that between 23 July 2019 and 28 January 2020 we were able to meet only four times, holding only seven further evidence sessions. We tender once again our apologies to those witnesses whose own plans, like ours, were disrupted, and whose evidence sessions had to be postponed, often at short notice.

14.On 28 January 2020 we resumed our weekly meetings, taking our total to 20 evidence sessions with 56 witnesses. Additionally, we held a private meeting with families of problem gamblers who had taken their own lives. A list of those who gave us written and oral evidence is at Appendix 2, and their evidence is on our website. To all those witnesses we are most grateful; our assessment of all their views and evidence is the basis of this report.

15.Our final oral evidence session with Ministers, which was to have taken place on 17 March 2020, unfortunately and understandably had to be cancelled, but Ministers have instead sent written evidence giving us the Government’s view on the questions we were to have put to them.13

16.The delays in our work mean that most of our written evidence, which was submitted in September 2019, is now nine months old. Fortunately, we have been able to update it with oral evidence and supplementary written evidence. But the problems caused by Covid-19 are of a different order. Until the day before this report was agreed all betting shops, casinos and sports venues were still closed, and offline gambling had virtually come to a standstill. Some of the evidence gives data on trends in gambling, problem gambling, income and expenditure, comparisons of offline and online gambling, and much else. Normally one would be able to extrapolate from these to see what the future might hold. Plainly this will not be possible for this year, and perhaps for some time thereafter. We do not believe this will affect our conclusions and recommendations. The changes we propose will be needed whatever the future may hold.

Other contemporaneous work

17.This is a topic that has been very much in the forefront of the news during our inquiry. Our work has been undertaken over 13 months, and in that time there have been attempts to change the law, and changes in policy and practice, some initiated by the Gambling Commission, some by the industry itself, and some by pressure groups—but none by the Government.

18.Other bodies have been concerned with these issues and three of them, though not Parliamentary Committees, have had parliamentary connections. There are two All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs). The oldest is the All Party Betting and Gaming Group, whose remit is “to act as a forum for the discussion of issues concerning betting and gaming in the UK”.14 Its Chair is Philip Davies MP. Our Chair met Mr Davies informally on 23 July 2019.

19.A second APPG, initially formed to consider the question of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), was re-formed in January 2019 as the APPG on Gambling Related Harm to consider wider issues. Its remit is now “to address the issues associated with Gambling Related Harm”.15 It is chaired by Carolyn Harris MP. Our Chair met her informally on 9 July 2019, and she came with Ronnie Cowan MP and Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP to talk informally to the Committee on 3 March 2020. Over the last year the APPG has carried out a wide ranging inquiry into Online Gambling Harm, publishing an interim report in November 201916 and a final report on 16 June 2020.17

20.Lastly, shortly after our Committee was established five major gambling companies invited Lord Chadlington18 to establish an independent Committee to make recommendations on the administration of funds donated by those companies. Lord Chadlington’s Committee reported in December 2019. We consider their report, together with the whole of this question, in Chapter 8.

The devolved administrations

21.The Gambling Act 2005 applies to England and Wales. It also applies to Scotland,19 but with some differences: for example, some of the powers to make secondary legislation in relation to Scotland are given to Scottish Ministers. The Gambling Commission has no power to prosecute offences in Scotland; that power rests solely with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, to whom the Commission can refer the results of an investigation.

22.The Act20 does not however apply to Northern Ireland, where gambling is still governed by the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985,21 itself based on the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, the Gaming Act 1968 and the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976, nearly all of which the 2005 Act repealed and replaced for the rest of the United Kingdom.22 The law in Northern Ireland is therefore much more restrictive than in the rest of the United Kingdom; casinos are not permitted, and poker, bingo and other games cannot be organised commercially in licensed premises. Betting shops and commercial bingo clubs do not open on Sundays, a sensitive issue in the Province. On the other hand, online gambling is almost unrestricted, since the 1985 Order contains no provisions governing it.

23.In 2011 the Northern Ireland Department for Communities initiated a review “to investigate the key elements of Northern Ireland’s gambling policy, practice and law, and identify areas where reform is necessary if gambling is to remain a safe social activity.” On 6 March 2011 the Department issued a consultation paper.23 The Northern Ireland Executive announced in February 2013 that it intended “to update the Province’s outdated gambling laws to align them more with those that operate throughout the rest of the UK.” Nothing however happened until 16 December 2019 when the Department for Communities issued a fresh consultation on gambling law in Northern Ireland.24 That consultation closed on 21 February 2020. The results are still awaited. Our recommendations do not therefore extend to Northern Ireland. We hope that those involved in formulating new laws regulating gambling in the Province will nevertheless find our views useful.

A word on terminology

24.When on 8 October 2019 we took oral evidence from four witnesses who had been seriously harmed by their gambling, we began by asking them about their preferred terminology. They were not unanimous, but most preferred the term “disordered gambling” to “problem gambling”, since this indicated a gambling disorder or gambling addiction, with a link to mental health.25 We very much sympathise with the view that it is not gamblers or their gambling which are the problem; on this view the problems are the activities of the industry. Nevertheless we have decided in this report to refer to “problem gambling” and “problem gamblers”. These expressions do not fully recognise the mental health issues, but they are consistently used in official publications and academic research,26 and are commonly used in the press and elsewhere. We think they are the expressions which will be best understood by most readers of this report.


25.At our first meeting on 18 June 2019 we appointed Professor Rebecca Cassidy, Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, as our specialist adviser for the inquiry. She was reappointed when the Committee was appointed for the second time on 28 October 2019. For personal reasons she told us that she would prefer not to be reappointed when this Committee was appointed for the third time. We are most grateful to her for her advice and assistance in the early stages of the inquiry, in the formulation of the call for evidence, in the selection of witnesses and in formulating questions to them. In the later stages of our inquiry we have had assistance from Dr Philip Newall of Central Queensland University, and to him too we are most grateful.

Implementation of this report

26.The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2019 general election promised a review of the Gambling Act. In their final evidence to us Ministers said:

“We also committed in our manifesto to review the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure it is fit for the digital age. Further details will be announced in due course but this committee’s report will undoubtedly be an important point of reference in that process.”

Later they said: “We particularly look forward to the findings from this committee.”27 The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party manifestos also made pledges to reform the law on gambling.28

27.All three main UK political parties, and the Scottish National Party, pledged in their election manifestos to reform the law on gambling. Although they frame their proposed policies differently, it is clear that all four parties believe that major changes to the law on gambling are needed. We hope that the Government, in making good on its manifesto undertaking, will urgently give effect to our recommendations, and that they will receive all-party support.

28.A few of our recommendations can be implemented only by primary legislation, but most need only secondary legislation, or changes in the Gambling Commission’s licence conditions and codes of practice, or in the way it exercises the powers it already has. There is no need for these to wait until an opportunity for primary legislation arises.

29.The Labour manifesto promised a new Gambling Act, and a number of our witnesses have called for a new Act, though without specifying what the new Act should say, or how it would differ from the existing Act. The 2005 Act is a major piece of legislation with 362 sections and 18 Schedules. We take the view that only a complete reversal of the policy behind the Act would necessitate its repeal and replacement. This is not something we have recommended. We believe that where the major changes which we have recommended involve primary legislation, they can be effected by amendment of the Act or, in a few cases, of other primary legislation.

1 These are rounded figures. See paragraph 70 and Table 1 for more exact figures.

2 See paragraph 277. More exact figures, and an explanation of what we mean by “problem” gambler and similar expressions, are given in Chapter 5 on Gambling-Related Harm, paragraphs 262–265.

3 See paragraphs 420–421.

4 Gambling Commission, Gambling participation: activities and mode of access (October 2014) p 2: [accessed 17 June 2020]

5 Gambling Commission, Gambling participation in 2019: behaviour, awareness and attitudes, Annual report (February 2020) p 10: [accessed 18 June 2020]

6 Written evidence from beBettor Ltd (GAM0021)

7 See paragraphs 278–285.

8 Liaison Committee, New special inquiry committees 2019–20 (4th Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 309), para 18

9 In 2019 this was not the beginning of the session; there had been no prorogation in May 2019 or in May 2018.

10 The composition of the Committee is set out in Appendix 1, including two changes which were made during the course of our inquiry. The Bishop of St Albans is a member of the Committee.

11 Apart from the changes listed in Appendix 1.

12 See Appendix 3.

13 Supplementary written evidence from HM Government (GAM0135)

14 Lord Mancroft, Lord Smith of Hindhead and Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, members of this Committee, are members of this Group.

15 Lord Foster of Bath and the Bishop of St Albans, both members of this Committee, are members of this Group.

16 All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm, Online Gambling Harm Inquiry: Interim Report (November 2019): [accessed 17 June 2020]

17 All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm, Online Gambling Harm Inquiry: Final Report (June 2020): [accessed 17 June 2020]

18 A member of the APPG on Betting and Gaming.

19 The SNP would however like to see greater devolution of gambling regulation to the Scottish Parliament: see the extract from the SNP manifesto in Appendix 4.

20 Hereafter, unless the context otherwise requires a reference to “the Act” or “the 2005 Act” is a reference to the Gambling Act 2005.

21 The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (SI 1985/1204)

22 The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, sections 24–31, dealing with the Horserace Betting Levy Board and the Totalisator Board, remain in force. The Gambling Commission’s jurisdiction also extends to Northern Ireland under the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014, section 5 in respect of the offence of advertising unlicensed remote gambling: Northern Ireland.

23 Northern Ireland Department for Communities, ‘Future regulation of gambling in Northern Ireland’: [accessed 29 April 2020]

24 Northern Ireland Department for Communities, ‘Consultation launched on regulation of gambling in Northern Ireland’: [accessed 29 April 2020] and Northern Ireland Department for Communities, Regulation of Gambling in Northern Ireland Consultation Document (December 2019): [accessed 29 April 2020]

25 Q 50 (Owen Baily, Alex Macey, Tony Parente and Michelle Singlehurst)

26 They are the expressions consistently used by the Gambling Commission (including in the Gambling Commission, Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (April 2020):, [accessed 29 April 2020], and in the Gambling Commission, Gambling-related harm as a public health issue: Briefing paper for Local Authorities and local Public Health providers (February 2018): [accessed 29 April 2020]); and also used in, inter alia, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Gambling Review Report, Cm 5206, July 2001: [accessed 4 May 2020]; the Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, Draft Gambling Bill (Report of Session 2003–04, HC 139-1, HL Paper 63–1); Culture, Media and Sport Committee, The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking? (First Report, Session 2012–13, HC 421); and more recently in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm, Online Gambling Harm Inquiry: Interim Report (November 2019): [accessed 29 April 2020]; Lord Chadlington’s Committee, Action Against Gambling Harms (December 2019); Northern Ireland Department for Communities, Regulation of Gambling in Northern Ireland Consultation Document (16 December 2019): [accessed 18 May 2020]; and the National Audit Office, Gambling regulation: problem gambling and protecting vulnerable people (26 February 2020): [accessed 18 May 2020].

27 Supplementary written evidence from HM Government (GAM0135)

28 We set out the relevant passages in Appendix 4.

© Parliamentary copyright 2020