Bishop of St Albans – ban online gambling adverts and monitor games to reduce harm to young people

On 17th January 2019 Baroness Kidron led a debate in the House of Lords on the motion “that this House takes note of the relationship between the use of digital technology and the health and well-being of children and young people.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for raising this subject and for her outstanding introduction to this debate.

Fifty-five thousand children in this country are classified as problem gamblers. The Gambling Commission’s report, Young People and Gambling, published in November, shows that gambling participation has risen, with 14% of 11 to 16 year-olds having spent their own money on gambling. That is a greater proportion of young people than have drunk alcohol, smoked cigarettes or taken illegal drugs.

Today’s children are being conditioned to think that the normal way to enjoy sport is to bet on it—as opposed to what I was brought up with, where you simply enjoyed seeing people competing with one another. They face a barrage of adverts during sports broadcasts. Young people today see an average of 3.8 gambling adverts daily, and 66% of children have seen gambling adverts on TV—a product of the £1.2 billion spent by the industry on advertising. The wild west of the online world is compounding the problems among young people. These digital natives, who are wonderfully adept with technology, are most at risk from the digital switch that the gambling industry is currently undergoing. The many millions of children and young people on social media sites have the option to follow accounts created by the gambling lobby, which often floods the very same sites with adverts, all without any need for age verification.

Yet, more than this, the very nature of gambling is changed by being online. No longer are people limited by how long a bookie stays open and no longer are people easily prevented from gambling if they are underage. Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones of Imperial College has highlighted how young people can disengage from previously rewarding activities and relationships in the real world and move towards using screens excessively. This is the very seedbed in which gambling disorders can easily take root. The report refers to what any parent already knows: children’s predilection to seek immediate gratification makes them particularly ​susceptible to habit-forming rewards. Take away time limits or age verification on phone and online games, and they can all too easily become addictive.

The online world has changed dramatically since the Gambling Act 2005. Nowadays many in-app games are promoted by popular TV personalities. Before 2005, words such as “loot boxes” and “skins” would have been met with blank stares—indeed, I suspect they still may be from many people in this Chamber—yet they are now commonplace language among young people. It is not simply my opinion that loot boxes function as gambling in everything but name; the Belgian Parliament has outlawed them because of its worries.

This debate is centred on the challenges facing young people. I believe we need urgently to monitor the use of online games that use skins and loot boxes. We need to adopt the precautionary principle in limiting, or preferably banning, online gambling adverts. Therefore I hope the Minister will set out the steps that Her Majesty’s Government are taking to monitor and respond to this worrying aspect of the digital world.


Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): … research into and training on the concept of addiction and gaming is needed. We can pick up the remarks about gambling by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and others. I have made the point in previous debates that the research deficit is worrying. We need to have empirical research and to dedicate real resource to accumulating it in a managed way so that we can all use and learn from it…

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con)…Perhaps I should start on the questions asked by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans about gambling as this is the third day running I have been talking about this. I shall be very brief because I have a lot to get through. In 2017, the Gambling Commission set out its continued commitment to tackle issues arising from a potential convergence between gaming and gambling, and to look at developments such as skins betting and social casino gambling. In September 2018, the Gambling Commission, along with 16 other regulators from Europe and the USA, signed a declaration which outlined common concerns about gaming and gambling. It is also seeking to work with the video games industry to raise awareness of this.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, asked about online gaming and addiction. The response to the Internet Safety Strategy outlined how we will work with online platforms and agencies, such as the Video Standards Council Rating Board, trade bodies and others, to continue to improve. He can look at that. I am not going to go through it in detail now.

The right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked what we are going with regard to loot boxes. The Gambling Commission has strong powers. We are aware of the concerns that entertainment ​products such as video games could encourage gambling-like behaviour, so we will look at evidence around that very carefully. The Gambling Commission is aware of that…