By Tim Poole
As an industry defender who often takes issue with the Gambling Commission, I find myself unusually aligned with the regulator this week. We have all witnessed the Commission and UK Government working together to curtail the industry – somtimes fairly, others not. This week though, the Commission itself came under fire from politicians – and I can’t help but wonder what it must feel like for the shoe to be on the other foot.
The issue of safer gambling, as I have repeatedly written, is a cause worth campaigning for. The problem is the politicians of this country don’t always have the genuine wellbeing of their constituents at heart, especially when scapegoating the gaming sector for an easy uptick in the polls. Their scattergun approach can cause more harm than good and the Commission is perhaps coming to learn that itself, off the back of the Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group’s (GRH APPG) six-month inquiry into gambling-related harm.
The GRH APPG’s report, among other things, called for an online slot stake limit of £2 ($2.60). Perhaps more importantly however, the report also described the Gambling Commission as "not fit for purpose."
Carolyn Harris MP, Chair of the GRH APPG, said: "It is not at all clear why the Gambling Commission is not looking at this as a matter of urgency. It is an abdication of its responsibility as a regulator. There must be consistent and appropriate regulation of all forms of gambling.”
Harris criticised Gamble Aware, too, just to ensure all bases were covered where alienation is concerned. As if the intent wasn’t clear enough, the use of language ("abdication") was grossly hyperbolic. Naturally, the Commission expressed its disappointment with the report’s exaggerative conclusions and refuted what it had to say. But therein lies a lesson for the Commission: if it has ever jumped on the bandwagon of an anti-gambling politician in the past, it now knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of a politician's baseless rhetoric.
My own perception of the Commission has changed somewhat in recent months. I still feel there can be an overbearing tendency from the regulator, whereas I certainly get a much more pro-industry feel from the Malta Gaming Authority or an authority like the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (in the US). Those I have spoken to about the Commission this year though, have told me the Commission is a strict but fair enforcer. Many other regulatory bodies look to up to it; it sets an example in a sector that's tough to regulate.
Besides, even if my first impressions of the Commission were correct – that it goes too far to curb the industry rather than promote a healthier marketplace – how could politicians claim it isn’t fit for purpose? Numerous fines, reports and consultations, even going back just a few weeks, prove the Commission is doing its duty. It should not now bow to political pressure by unfairly transferring that same pressure towards gaming firms; its measured response to the GRH APPG’s findings suggest it doesn't intend to.
As for online stakes themselves, it was inevitable the discussion would reach this stage at some point in time. Once again however, the motives of the MPs leading this charge are rarely clear. When they are clear, you can be sure any overzealous claims are being made for all the wrong reasons.
Share prices fell en masse for online operators as the news broke earlier this week. In some ways, that’s all UK politicians are probably ever looking for – to hurt gaming firms while upping their own value (at a time when popularity is rather low across the board for MPs).
As Gamble Aware and the Commission have now found out, politicians won’t stop at simply targeting operators to gain anti-gambling brownie points. The next time the Government engages in conversation with the bodies in question, this important fact shouldn’t be forgotten.