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Unlucky Dip: The Damaging Impacts of Online Gambling

A new report from the Centre of Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) and Clean Up Gambling (CUG) looks at the public health implications of the gambling industry. The project, commissioned by CUG, comes in anticipation of a long-awaited government white paper which will propose an update of the 2005 Gambling Act. 

Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods, the report has found the 2005 Gambling Act - which liberalised regulations on the industry - to be a total failure, leading to high levels of tax avoidance and an explosion in online gambling. 

The project has also revealed the lack of transparency in the gambling industry. Out of a total project term of 5 months, it took 4 months to secure the qualitative data, as the gambling industry essentially controls which information is publicly available. 

Research uncovered the fact that the gambling industry is deliberately targeting women - many without any history of gambling addiction -  by bombarding them with messages, advertising and free gifts in order to retain them as regular customers. The combination of these tactics, along with social isolation over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of opportunities has led to an epidemic of gambling in women. 

Meanwhile, the exploitative practices of the gambling industry intersect with the UK’s payday lending infrastructure, creating the perfect storm for many who have no history of addiction to end up in serious financial jeopardy, as the report found. 

The report lays bare the impact of gambling on people's lives, with participants each losing tens of thousands of pounds (one, a quarter of a million) through their interactions with gambling operators and payday lenders. It makes 12 recommendations, which would reduce the number of people who will develop addictions to gambling products, as well as the harm caused to those who are already showing signs of high concern gambling: 

  1. Consumer data should no longer be gate kept by the gambling industry or its preferred funding recipients. Instead, open access to data should be a condition of licensing.
  2. Operators must not be allowed to contact consumers via email or SMS to market their products.
  3. There should be an outright ban on repeat custom perks. This should include:
    1. VIP schemes
    2. Higher bonuses as a condition of repeat custom
    3. Free spins
    4. Tangible gifts given to regular customers
    5. In-app live broadcasting of sports events for members
  4. Update identity checks to eliminate problem gamblers setting up accounts using other family members’ identification details. When a new account is opened, customers should have to verify it is them via selfie video with an independent verifier, as is common practice with applications for platform sector work and online banks in the UK.
  5. Gambling advertising should be further restricted to reduce exposure of such products to minors. This should be much the same as the model implemented by the Spanish government, where adverts can only be shown between the hours of 00:00 – 04:00.
  6. The time lag between depositing and withdrawing money must be equalised.
  7. Landing pages that provide consumers with access to all of their products should be eliminated, so as to reduce the numbers of consumers migrating between different forms of gambling.
  8. Cross-selling different products that the consumer did not sign up to engage with should be banned.
  9. Gambling affiliate websites should be banned, on the basis that they exacerbate problem gambling.
  10. There should be a cap on the number of instant deposits that can be made within 15 minute, 1 hour, 24 hour and 1 week time periods.
  11. Reality checks need to be altered so as to make them more effective. The current system that is circumvented with a touch of a button has little effect on participants’ gambling activity, this could be replaced with an un-skippable data driven information video that outlines the help options available.
  12. Mandatory deposit and time limits should be implemented to reduce the prevalence of damaging gambling sessions. These should be informed by sector wide affordability controls.

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