Photo of Brigid Simmonds

Brigid Simmonds

Looking ahead to another year of progress in promoting safer gambling

Happy New Year to all who read this, and let us hope that 2021 will be happier and healthier than 2020.

At the Betting and Gaming Council, we will of course be working hard in the New Year on the reopening of all betting shops, casinos and bingo halls, hopefully without any of the restraints which have characterised the last six months.

As the vaccine is rolled out, I hope that the many restrictions placed on our industry and others will be relaxed. In particular, the 10pm curfew – which had a hugely detrimental impact on our casino members – must end as soon as it is safe to do so.

But the main priority for the BGC in 2021 will be driving further change and promoting safer gambling. The first three months of the New Year will be taken up by the Government’s call for evidence as part of its Gambling Review, something which we have strongly welcomed.

I firmly believe that this is a great opportunity to build on the excellent progress that our industry has made since the BGC was formed in November, 2019. The success of the whistle to whistle ban – which has reduced the number of TV betting commercials seen by children during live sport pre-watershed by 97 per cent – is a perfect example of what we can achieve together.

Working with the Gambling Commission, we also introduced a far-reaching code on VIPs (Higher Value Customers) which has reduced their number by 70 per cent. Thanks to our 10-pledge Covid action plan, the number of safer gambling messages received by our members' customers increased by 150 per cent, while our new games design code brought in minimum spin speeds of 2.5 seconds and the removal of turbo and slam stops.

But while we have achieved much, there is more still to do in 2021. We will continue our trials on affordability, and work more closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office on how we can share data between members without compromising personal privacy or restricting customer choice.

Our work on improving game design will go on, focusing on easier to understand consumer information, while discussions with the Government will take place on a Code on Sports Sponsorship. We recognise the concerns about betting companies sponsoring football clubs, but whether it be darts, snooker, rugby league, horseracing or football, safer gambling must be at the heart of all sports sponsorship agreements. The Government and Gambling Commission need to look at how white listing works in this area and whether it is appropriate for brands which have no interest in the UK market to be sponsoring football clubs.

The Industry Code on Responsible Gambling has already introduced tough new rules to further prevent under-18s from seeing online betting ads. BGC members rightly have zero tolerance of anyone under the age of 18 using their products, and we will be looking to develop a code of conduct for accounts for 18 to 24-year-olds.

The Young People’s Gambling Harm Prevention Programme – funded by £10m from our members and delivered by YGAM and GamCare – will continue, while we will be shortly introducing our guidance on our employee safer gambling policy. As ever, we seek ongoing improvements to our self-exclusion schemes and are working closely with GAMSTOP, MOSES and SENSE to that end. And we look forward to publishing the GamCare Industry Code on the Display of Safer Gambling Information in the early part of 2021 as part of our effort to create better visibility and access to safer gambling tools and support.

We want to be an industry which is respected around the world for its best-in-class approach to delivering high standards and promoting safer gambling. We want to encourage more discussion about the risks of gambling, but at the same time the Gambling Review must not risk driving the millions who enjoy a flutter into the arms of the illegal, online black market, which has none of the safeguards which are synonymous with the regulated industry.

We do not in any way underestimate the task in front of us, but with the right approach and the co-operation of all interested parties – from the industry to the Government, regulator and third sector – we can look forward to much more positive change in the year ahead.

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