Bishop of St Albans questions Government about underage online gambling

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St Albans 2On the 12th January 2017 the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith asked a question in the Lords about underage gambling online. Lord Ashton of Hyde responded for the Government. Those exchanges and the follow-up questions of Peers are reproduced below:

 The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to tackle the prevalence of underage gambling online, in the light of the Gambling Commission’s report Young People and Gambling 2016.

 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde): My Lords, the protection of children from being harmed or exploited by gambling is one of the core objectives of the Gambling Act 2005. The level of participation of children aged 11 to 15 in gambling has remained relatively static. There are strict controls in place to prevent children from accessing gambling online, via the Gambling Commission’s licence conditions. Where there is a failure to prevent underage gambling, the Gambling Commission will take regulatory and/or criminal action.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply. The survey of the Gambling Commission found that nearly one in 10 of 11 to 16 year-olds were engaged in gambling-style games, usually on a smartphone. Does the Minister share my concern that the prevalence of this would seem to normalise this behaviour at a very formative time in young people’s development, which may lead to very serious problems later on? What more can Her Majesty’s Government do to limit their exposure to adverts and games that are explicitly trying to encourage gambling?
Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, of course I share the right reverend Prelate’s concern that there might be risks attached to social gaming. These gambling-style games were considered in detail by the commission in 2015, which concluded that there was no compelling reason to impose additional regulation on the social gaming sector, particularly given that it is subject to extensive consumer protection, such as the Consumer Rights Act. As far as advertising is concerned, there are strict controls over advertising and the content of gambling advertisements already. Gambling advertising was part of the recent call for evidence in the gambling review for the first time, so we await that evidence.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s reference to the triennial review, which, despite my scepticism, has actually started. One of the problems with that review, which he has alluded to, is that it talks about gambling limits in certain gambling premises, but one can walk into any premises and put down any amount of money on a mobile phone. Surely it is time for the Government to have a bit of joined-up thinking here and see what the implications are of this absolutely unregulated level of gambling, which affects not just children but everyone in our society.

Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the gambling review was initiated in October last year—despite his scepticism, as he says, so I am glad that he acknowledges that. He is also right to draw attention to the possibilities of online gambling. The gambling review has always looked at different things—namely, the stakes, prizes, number and locations of gaming machines. As I have already said, this year we added advertising to that. The view of the Gambling Commission, which is the statutory adviser to the Government on gambling, is that the current requirements for age verification are effective in preventing underage gambling, but we keep the regulation of online gambling under review and will not hesitate to take action if it is needed to protect people from gambling-related harm.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB): Will the Minister undertake to ask the gambling review to look at specific problems for young adults with learning disabilities or with other aspects of impaired mental capacity who, although they are over the age of 18, can still be particularly vulnerable to being hooked into quite inappropriate gambling activities? I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum.

Lord Ashton of Hyde: I cannot confirm today that it is part of the gambling review because that has already been started. However, one of the three core licensing objectives is to protect people who are vulnerable from gambling-related harm.

Lord Foster of Bath (LD): My Lords, the Gambling Commission report clearly shows that in just one week a staggering 32,000 11 to 15 year-olds entered betting shops, many of them playing on highly addictive fixed-odds betting terminals. Does that not show wholly inadequate levels of supervision in betting shops and their failure to meet the licensing objective of protecting the vulnerable from harm? What action are the Government going to take or recommend that the Gambling Commission takes?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: I cannot say now because the gambling review is looking at just that matter. The point of the review is to look at these things and provide recommendations. The call for evidence has just been completed, and we will be consulting on that call for evidence soon.

Baroness Jowell (Lab): My Lords, I hope the Minister will accept that the Gambling Act 2005, which I was responsible for as the then Secretary of State, gave us one of the most highly regulated gambling regimes in the world. Gambling changes rapidly, though, and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans made clear, young people can gamble in the privacy of their own rooms on smartphones. Many of the new gambling products know no borders, which creates a regulatory challenge. Therefore, in the context of the gambling review, will the Minister undertake to look at ways of increasing the regulation of those forms of ambient gambling that we can control—specifically, gambling and betting shops on the high street—and ensure that a regulatory review is undertaken not only of the speed of play and the number of machines but also of the planning consent that has led to the outbreak of betting shops, driven by the availability of these machines on high streets across the country?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: I congratulate the noble Baroness on her achievement with the Gambling Act. However, things have not stayed the same since then; for example, the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 brought all gambling websites that provide gambling to British subjects, including foreign websites, under the licensing regime. We realise that this is a fast-moving environment, and the Gambling Commission monitors it on a continuing basis. As I said, we will not hesitate to take action if it is required. However, our statutory adviser has said that age verification is working well.

Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab): My Lords, in his initial Answer to the right reverend Prelate, the Minister mentioned the action the Gambling Commission could take against people offering underage gambling. Can he tell us, first, in how many instances it has taken action and what the consequences were and, secondly, how it takes action against overseas providers of those sites?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: My most up-to-date information is that there have been 11 occasions when the Gambling Commission has asked payment providers to prevent payments to unlicensed websites. On all 11 occasions the payment provider either terminated its relationship with the unlicensed operator or took steps to ensure that those websites were no longer available to consumers. There has also been great success with foreign unlicensed gambling websites. The key to this is that gambling is no good if you cannot transact money, so we stop payment providers. They are not prepared to deal with unlicensed—and thereby illegal—operators. I have figures here to show that it has been very successful.