Analysis The Gambling Act needs a revision not an extensive study

On Tuesday 3 September the Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry heard evidence on the effectiveness of the Gambling Act 2005. Doctors, professors, lawyers and even the knighted former Chairman of the Gambling Review Body gathered to study this measure passed 14 years ago. But really, why did they bother?

Susanna Fitzgerald QC; Dr Julia Hornle, Professor of Law at Queen Mary University of London; Dan Waugh from Regulus Partners and Sir Alan Budd GBE, the former Chairman of the Gambling Review Body, were all invited to give evidence on an outdated Act.  

Topics up for discussion included the responsibility to prevent problem gambling, advertising, whether the Gambling Commission has the knowledge and power to protect people from harmful products, the exposure of children and vulnerable people and whether regulation and licensing conditions need to be updated.

Early on in the hearing, Budd was asked by the Committee’s chair if the report and Gambling Act 2005 turned out as anticipated. In response, Budd started with a disclaimer. He explained that his knowledge of the gambling industry ends in 2001, the year he submitted his report. He said he has not been a student of recent developments.

With all due respect, this is not off to a fantastic start. When officials are brought in to study industries and write reports, it is clearly not always the case that they are embedded within it. Budd’s honest admission is welcomed but stresses the point this investigation into the Gambling Act 2005 was not exactly time well spent.

The Gambling Act was formed off the back of the report he produced in 2001. However, it did not include all of Budd’s proposals.

Waugh points out that Budd’s review was asked to look ahead 10 years in its study. He said the time at which the review and subsequent Gambling Act should have been examined was eight years ago. Here, once again, we see evidence this enquiry is happening at the wrong time.

The enquiry then looked into the protection of children and vulnerable people. A question from the Committee asked if gambling education should be taught in schools.

Waugh said: “Simply telling children that gambling is a risky business where bad things can happen may not lead to positive changes in their behaviour.

“We have to make sure that when we talk to them about gambling, they understand what they are doing with that. It could be that it has unintended negative consequences.”

When analysing advertising, Budd made it clear the Gambling Commission was expected to closely watch developments and protect young and vulnerable people.

Perhaps one of the more integral pillars of discussion surround the Gambling Act 2005 is its ability to handle online gambling. Budd was asked how much the online market influenced his review in 2001.

Budd said: “It was on our radar because we knew it was happening. But as I said earlier, at that date online gambling could not legally be provided by a UK-based company.

“It was not illegal for individuals to gamble online but it was illegal for a UK company to provide it. It is difficult to study an illegal industry.”

He added that they had limited data and found it hard to appreciate the scale of its potential. He linked this section to the proposals suggested in his review and said they mainly focused on the effects of land-based operations.

Budd’s next point sums up my argument – the iPhone was not released until 2007. While this first generation was a leap forward in mobile technology, they were nowhere near what we have today. In 2001, it would have been more science fiction than forward thinking to imagine the capabilities our phones have today.

This is exactly why the Gambling Act 2005 needs to be modernised. It fails to address online gambling appropriately, one of the biggest sectors in the UK and a real point of contention for problem gambling. I of course understand that a review is usually necessary before any amendments are made. In this case however, it is clear the Act was written for what was essentially a different industry.