Only the right gambling reforms will protect investment, jobs and raise standards
Getting the final proposals for gambling reform right can provide a long term boost for jobs and investment in our towns and cities.
It has been the privilege of my professional life to champion the people of Stoke-on-Trent Central as their first Conservative Member of Parliament. We achieved great things because I was steadfastly determined to put people before politics. At the next General Election, someone else will take on these responsibilities, representing a city rightly proud of its reputation for enterprise and endeavour.
Few cities can match Stoke’s industrial pedigree. From ceramics to technology firms, Stoke continues to reinvent itself as a place where businesses can thrive. This is a testament to its residents - hardworking, fair-minded, and endlessly innovative.
So it is no surprise to me, who has lived and breathed this wonderful city, that it is home to a true global leader in bet365. Betting and gaming is subject to fierce debate in the press. But I get to see firsthand the benefits a true technological powerhouse can bring to a city like Stoke.
At their modern, new HQ in the heart of the city, bet365 employs over 4,000 people, many in highly skilled software and technology roles. These jobs generate wealth and opportunity that spreads beyond the doors of bet365.
Crucially, unlike many tech companies, bet365 resides outside the capital, attracting talent to the region instead of drawing it away. This is Levelling Up in action - one born out of industry and enterprise, not officials in Whitehall.
It is not just Stoke that benefits from the wider industry. Leeds, Sunderland, Sheffield, Warrington, Manchester and many other towns and cities outside the capital also benefit from a UK sector which leads the world. Across the country, betting and gaming supports around 110,000 jobs, generates £7.1bn for the economy and contributes £4.2bn in tax for vital frontline services. That investment flows from high streets to hospitality, from tourism to tech, in Stoke and across the UK.
The reason for this success is down to the popularity of betting and gaming. Each month around 22.5m adults have a bet, be it on the lottery, in casinos and bingo halls, on the sports we love like football and horseracing, and online. And despite the vast numbers betting, the rates of problem gambling in the UK remain stable and low. The recent NHS England Survey put the problem gambling rate at 0.4 per cent of adults.
Often, the debate around betting is terse, ill-informed, and frankly patronising. First and foremost, it is, and remains, a hobby. This is true for Stoke as it is for many other places. For my constituents, having a bet with money they have earned and paid tax on is no different to going to the pub and having a pint.
And yet that hobby is often derided or judged, and by association, so are the businesses that operate in the UK legitimately, in a highly regulated market. If this hobby, and the businesses which support it, are undermined, it will have an economic impact.
Just months ago, the Government published the white paper on gambling reform, a once-in-a generation opportunity to modernise betting regulations and put the world’s leading firms on a sustainable foundation for future growth.
I welcomed the white paper because it is balanced, proportionate, and made crucial decisions in line with the evidence. No one is immune to some of the risks betting can bring; in this respect, it is very similar to the alcohol industry.
So measures like an Ombudsman to improve customer redress, enhanced spending checks online to ensure swift interventions can take place, and modest modernisation plans for land-based operators like casinos, are all very welcome.
But much is still undecided, and indecision causes uncertainty for customers and businesses. The white paper launched eight separate consultations, and the proposals arising from those consultations could yet have huge ramifications on the betting and gaming sector, and for Stoke. It is vital we get those right if we are to protect jobs and investment.
The regulator has a key role in this. The Gambling Commission must ensure their consultations and the final proposals that emerge from them are in keeping with the political direction this government has set. That is particularly true on the thorny issue of affordability checks. When these were proposed as part of the white paper, we were told they would be frictionless and occur without customers being aware. That must be the case, or it risks driving punters from the regulated sector toward unregulated, unsafe operators on the black market.
When the nation goes to the polls at the next General Election, I will finally hand over the reins to my successor. I know who I will be rooting for. But whoever inherits this wonderful privilege, I urge them to do as I did: put people before politics. Only that approach will ensure Stoke continues to thrive, and crucially, continues to be a place where industry and endeavour can call home.
Jo Gideon MP - Stoke-On-Trent Central