By Kylie MacLellan and Muvija M
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday unveiled long-awaited plans to crack down on problem gambling with the aim of updating regulations with an increase in online and smartphone betting.
The proposals would see new online stake limits of between £2 ($2.49) and £15, tighter accessibility checks on customers and a new statutory levy on betting companies to fund research, education and treatment for problem gamblers.
“A flutter is one thing, a runaway addiction is another; so today we bring our pre-smartphone regulations to the present day with a Gambling White Paper (Policy Paper) for the Digital Age,” Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, told the parliament.
The government has said it will consult on the size of the levy and how it will be structured.
The reforms would give gambling regulators extra powers to crack down on illegal betting sites and thwart unauthorized operators. They will also look to introduce restrictions on bonus offers, such as bets and free spins, and introduce more protections for under-25s.
Campaign group Charity Gambling with Lives, which supports families bereaved of gambling-related suicide, has welcomed the changes but said they haven’t gone far enough.
He had called for an end to all gambling ads and convenience checks at 100 pounds of monthly losses.
The government has proposed that the more detailed checks start with a net loss of £1,000 within 24 hours or £2,000 within 90 days.
“We’ve won concessions on some of the key areas, but much more needs to happen to reduce the horrendous damage caused by one of the least regulated gambling industries in the world,” said Liz Ritchie, co-founder of Gambling with Lives, who lost his son Jack to gambling-related suicide.
The changes mark the biggest £14bn industry overhaul since the Gambling Act of 2005. Habits have changed significantly since then, with online gambling on the rise.
The COVID-19 lockdowns have turbocharged this shift, with gambling companies including Ladbrokes and Coral brand owner, Entain, and the Dublin-based company behind Paddy Power and Betfair, Flutter Entertainment , which achieved significantly higher profits.
Entain and Flutter, two of the world’s largest gambling companies, both welcomed the proposals and said they would look into the details.
The government said it would also support the more traditional “land-based” gambling sector such as casinos and arcades, relaxing what it described as “overly restrictive” rules to allow them to have more gaming machines.
Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew said the government plans to introduce the changes by summer next year, but the opposition Labor Party has urged the government to legislate before parliament enters its summer recess in July.
The government says there are around 300,000 problem gamblers in Britain, but campaign groups estimate up to 1.4 million are addicted to gambling, with 500 in England alone taking their own lives every year due to gambling.
Problematic practices in the gambling industry have forced the regulator, the Gambling Commission, to issue several large fines, including a record £19.2 million fine to the William Hill Group, which is owned by the company of online game 888.
($1 = 0.8017 pounds)
(Reporting by Muvija M, Kylie MacLellan and Alistair Smout; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, David Goodman and John Stonestreet)