Labour’s Taw Watson calls for stricter regulations to address the problems of online gambling, which he brands “Britain’s epidemic.”
Labour has pledged to implement more stringent online gambling regulations should the party ever come to power again. Speaking at the Institute for Public Policy Research in London on Thursday, deputy leader Tom Watson said that stricter rules were needed to address “Britain’s hidden epidemic.” He also hit out at current regulatory shortcomings which he claimed were leading to “gross excesses, abuse and vulnerable problem-gamblers being let down.”
To support his claims, the shadow culture secretary cited recent controversies within the industry to illustrate that the current laws are not fit for purpose, including the case of a young gambler with a brain injury who lost more than £200,000 in online betting.
Watson also dismissed the 2005 Gambling Act as “analogue legislation not fit for the digital age” and that the current regulations were ‘totally lacking”.
“The 2005 Act was written so long ago it has more mentions of the postal service than the internet. Whereas gambling in the offline world is highly regulated, the lack of controls on online gambling is leading to vulnerable consumers suffering huge losses.”
In order to address the perceived online gambling crisis, Watson called for “a culture of limits (to be) introduced to internet gambling,” including “a system of thresholds placed on spend, stake and speed of online gambling.”
Other proposals included the creation of an E-Category to regulate online gambling – a similar rule is already in place for fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT). FOBTs have been the target of a sustained cross-party campaign to curtail their appeal to the general public with the government recently agreeing to cut maximum stakes to £2 from £100. Tom Watson believes that a similar measure should be applied more widely in the online gambling sector.
In addition to spending caps, the shadow culture secretary suggested that all online casinos should be obliged to conduct affordability checks on customers to judge whether they have enough money to make high-stake bets.
Watson also announced that a consultation will be held to gather information on the links between online video games and gambling. One of the main issues up for investigation is the use of in-game elements such as loot boxes and skins, which many have decided introduces children to gambling.
In response to the news of Labour’s new initiative, the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) moved quickly to reassure the entire UK populace that it “fully embraced the need to move faster to tackle problem gambling through effective regulation based on innovation, evidence and customer data.”
The RGA was also quick to underline its commitment to “working with the Government and Opposition to achieve that goal.” However, it cautioned against “arbitrary limits that risk driving customers to the unregulated and illegal gambling market.”
The Gambling Commission was also at pains to remind the general public about its unrelenting mission to penalise online casino operators in the name of consumer safety and protection.
“The online gambling sector is tightly regulated and we continue to review and develop our regulations with new technology and innovation in mind. This is a stringent regime which has allowed us to take action against operators who don’t offer the best possible safety and protection for consumers.”
Indeed, the Gambling Commission, which was labelled an ‘expensive and unnecessary quango’ in the Draft Gambling Bill 2013, has heavily penalised operators in recent years. Fines in 2016 amounted to £5.2 million, rising to £10.8 million in 2018 and £28 million in 2018.