Gambling machines and websites to carry alcohol-style health warnings in new ‘public health’ approach

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Gambling firms will be expected  to carry alcohol-style health warnings on the risks of products from Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to online bets on sports matches to combat addiction.

The Gambling Commission, the industry’s regulator, is to adopt a “public health” approach where it works with other agencies to treat gambling as a potential disease with the firms required to give customers up-front messages about the dangers.

It says firms will face increasingly heavy fines if they  fail to “mitigate” the harms from gambling including suicide, loss of employment, debt, crime, mental ill health and family breakdown. 888 Holdings was last year fined a record £7.8 million for failing to help vulnerable customers.

The Commission also backed  a levy on firms to enable more problem gamblers are treated for addiction. Only two per cent of the 340,000 problem gamblers in the UK currently receive treatment, while a further 1.7 million are classed as at risk of developing a problem.

Unveiling its new strategy yesterday, Tim Miller, the Commission’s executive director, said its partnership with Public Health England would be critical in developing effective health messages: “We expect consumers to get more information about potential risks.

“We have a moment here to bring gambling harms out of the shadows. So many people I have spoken to feel there is a stigma that isn’t attached to other forms of addiction.”

New gamblers will be expected automatically to be offered the chance to set pre-agreed limits on the amount of time or money they spend. The Commission wants more “self-exclusion” schemes where gamblers have their accounts blocked once they spend a certain amount or want to stop.

The Commission is demanding the industry do more to identify and help vulnerable gamblers before they develop an addiction.

Probe into online gambling adverts | Five key facts

Online “avatars” used to impersonate children: 7

Times the “avatars” were targeted: 150

Different ads spotted: 23

Companies involved: 43

Children’s websites targeted by gambling advertisers: 11

Source: Advertising Standards Authority

Mr Miller indicated the industry’s logo, “When the fun stops, stop,” was “of its time” and needed to be properly evaluated if it was to continue. “For so long gambling related harms were not seen as a public health concern,” he said.

“That has changed now with a clear commitment from Public Health England. I would expect more effective and stronger messaging as a result.”

It warns: “We will hold to account licensees who do not take sufficient action to mitigate against the harms caused by gambling, or take account of lessons learned, using the full range of our enforcement powers, as evidenced by the increasing levels of financial penalties for regulatory failure.”

Measures expected to be announced in the coming year include a ban on the use of credit cards for gambling to prevent people betting money they do not have and compulsory age verification to combat under-aged gambling.

Sports minister Mims Davies said: “Protecting people from harm should be at the heart of every gambling business. Addiction can ruin lives and it is vital that those who need help are given the right treatment at the right time.”

Claire Murdoch, national director for mental health at NHS England, said: “There is increasing evidence of a link between problem gambling and stress, depression and other mental health issues and this is an important step in the battle to reduce the harm caused.”

The Commission says firms will be expected to provide “clear information for customers about the risks of gambling and how products behave. It means improving upfront consumer protections to encourage safer gambling.”

Dr Alan Smith, The Bishop of St Albans, said the strategy was long overdue but was concerned by the lack of detail and clarity about how success would be measured.

“If my fears are founded, the industry may use this strategy as a fig-leaf, with little room for public scrutiny available because metrics of success and failure are not made clear,” he said.

“I look forward to further details and greater clarity being shared with Parliament and the public so we can make sure this strategy delivers what it promises: to reduce gambling-related harm.”

Anna Hemmings,  chief executive of GamCare, said: With better co-ordination and evaluation of national education, prevention and research initiatives alongside support and treatment services, we can ensure that those at risk or already struggling receive more effective care. GamCare looks forward to playing a vital role in delivering the strategy over the coming years.”

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