As the BGC becomes one year old, our number one priority remains to raise standards and drive big changes, writes CEO Michael Dugher
Today marks the Betting and Gaming Council’s first anniversary – and what a 12 months it has been.
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic – which no one could have foreseen when we were established as the standards body representing betting shops, casinos and online gaming – has presented its own challenges, as it has to every industry around the world. But at no point did we take our eye off the ball when it comes to our top priority – raising standards and driving big changes across our industry.
From encouraging deposit limits and boosting spending on research, education and treatment services, to reducing the number of betting ads seen by children and introducing tough new rules on VIP schemes, the BGC has been determined to drive change. And we have lots more still to do.
Our importance as the regulated industry’s voice was really highlighted by the pandemic, when we quickly swung into action as the country locked down in March. Our betting shop and casino members, along with non-essential premises across the country, were forced to close, and we successfully lobbied Government to ensure they qualified for vital business rate relief at a time when they were unable to generate any revenue.
The BGC also published a 10-pledge action plan setting out the standards expected of our members during the crisis, including encouraging deposit limits and stepping up interventions if customers spent too much time or money betting. BGC members went further by removing all TV and radio gaming ads for six weeks, followed by a commitment that at least 20 per cent of ads in future should be safer gambling messages.
April saw our members raise nearly £3m for NHS Charities Together by donating all of their profits from the Virtual Grand National, which replaced the real thing after it fell victim to the Covid lockdown. And I’d also like to pay tribute to all the companies who joined the national effort, whether that was the casinos who donated food to homeless shelters or the businesses who provided free food for key workers. They really showed our industry at its best.
We also successfully lobbied for betting shops to be allowed to safely re-open with other ‘non-essential retail’ businesses in June and for covid-secure casinos to follow suit in August. It is obviously disappointing that, as we enter a second national lockdown in England, they are having to close again, despite their excellent anti-Covid measures and the absence of any evidence that they contribute to the spread of the virus. We are now working hard to ensure they can open again – and start generating vital tax revenues for the Treasury – as soon as possible.
In May, BGC members announced they were making £10m available for a national gambling education programme for all 11-19-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, delivered by YGAM and GamCare. And in June, our five biggest members confirmed they would provide £100m to improve treatment services for problem gamblers.
The publication of the code of conduct on VIP schemes, which introduced tough new rules which our members must follow before they can sign anyone up, provided further proof of our commitment to raise standards. Meanwhile, our new game design code will improve player safety and tackle problem behaviour.
A study by Enders Analysis confirmed the huge success of the whistle to whistle ban on TV betting ads during televised sporting events, with the number seen by children falling by 97 per cent.
As we mark our first birthday, We know the Government is preparing to launch its Gambling Review, beginning with a “call for evidence”, something which will shape our industry for years to come. We hope that this will be an evidence-led review and are very much looking forward to playing our part in the process.
Our industry employs around 100,000 people and, in normal times, contributes more than £3bn a year to the Exchequer. In addition, we provide £250m for horseracing, as well as between £120m and £200m in tourism spend. That’s why we also hope that the Government’s Review will avoid unintended consequences like driving customers to gamble on the offshore, illegal black market, where there is no such thing as safer gambling.
So as we become one year old, we will continue to ensure that our number one priority to raise standards continues in the important year ahead.