Long-awaited gambling reforms to be revealed as smartphones branded ‘trapdoor to despair’


A new tax on gambling firms and maximum stakes for online slot machines are being considered under government plans to crack down on online addiction.

The government is due to publish its highly anticipated gambling review on Thursday following a number of delays.

Among the measures expected to be confirmed in the report is a consultation on new affordability checks on those making significant losses.

Outlining the government’s approach in The Times, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the white paper will help “redress the power imbalance between punters and operators”.

Ms Frazer wrote: “We live in a freedom-loving democracy where, for the overwhelming majority of adults, betting is a bit of fun and it doesn’t come with ruinous consequences.”

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She warned that smartphones had become a “trapdoor to despair and isolation” with gambling now “not just on high streets but everywhere and anywhere, providing round-the-clock access to betting opportunities”.

Arguing that regulations had failed to keep up with the pace of change in the industry, Ms Frazer said there were “blindspots in the system that are being exploited, keeping addicts addicted and disproportionately impacting some of our communities who are least able to afford it”.

She added: “Our gambling white paper has measures to redress the power imbalance between punters and operators.

“It will do more to protect children and fund research on how we can do more to prevent addiction in the future.

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Gambling Review ready for release?

“It will strengthen our regulator and make sure it is as savvy as the companies it regulates. Most importantly, it will match our words with deeds.”

While the full details will only be revealed later on Thursday, the expectation is that the plans will include stake limits for online slot machines and a requirement to slow down online casino games to stop players losing large amounts of money in a short timeframe.

The newspaper reported that the affordability checks under consideration would apply to those who make losses of £1,000 in a day and also those who lose £2,000 over 90 days.

Ministers will also consult on a new mandatory levy to replace the current voluntary levy that will be spent on funding addiction education, treatment and research.

The Times reported that the levy, if enforced, could mean that large companies pay 1% of their profits to potentially fund NHS treatment for those who are addicted.

However, the newspaper said that VIP schemes offering hospitality and bonuses to biggest losers will not be banned.

The government has been under pressure to act following a number of cases in which people have taken their own lives over their addiction to gambling.

Last year, the parents of Jack Ritchie, 24, accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” in their failure to regulate an industry they described as “predatory” and “parasitic”.

A landmark inquest into the suicide of Mr Ritchie found that regulation, NHS treatment and government warnings about the dangers of gambling were “woefully inadequate”.

Read more:
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Westminster Accounts: As betting firms spend more than £200,000 wooing MPs – what can they expect from the gambling white paper?

The inquest in Sheffield was the first of its kind to examine the link between suicide and gambling and the way it is regulated.

Gambling With Lives, a charity that was set up by families bereaved by gambling-related suicide, said ahead of the report’s publication: “We’ll welcome any positives in today’s white paper, but it seems much will be pushed to consultation, meaning more delay.

“We’ve waited years, more than 1,000 people have died while the industry has made billions in profit from harm. We need action now to stop the deaths.

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell accused the government of being “beset by chaos and delay” over the white paper.

She added: “There is broad consensus in parliament that we need to update analogue gambling regulation so it is fit for the digital age, yet the Conservatives’ failure to govern means this is still some way off. We will work to ensure that gambling laws are urgently updated.”

Peter Jackson, chief executive of Flutter Entertainment plc, said: “We welcome the publication of the white paper, which marks a significant moment for the UK gambling sector.

“Whilst we will need to review the detail of the proposals once published, we believe proactive change will lead to a better future for our industry.

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“As such we have introduced industry-leading safer gambling controls via our ‘Play Well’ strategy over the last few years, including setting mandatory deposit limits for customers under age 25, reducing online slots staking limits to £10 per spin and making material investments in our safer gambling operational capabilities.

“We will continue to constructively engage with the government and Gambling Commission as part of any subsequent industry consultation processes, with a focus on providing support to the minority at risk of gambling harm without interfering disproportionately with the enjoyment of the vast majority.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

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