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Young gamblers could face £2 slot machine limit – BBC News

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  • By Katie Razzall
  • Culture editor

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, The proposals are expected to include checks on gamblers who lose more than £1,000 in a day

Young gamblers could face a stake limit of £2 on online slot machines, according to new government proposals.

The government said online slot machines were a particularly high-risk product, associated with large losses.

The white paper proposes a consultation on stake limits of between £2 and £15 per spin for online slots machines.

However, the government also suggested lower limits and greater protections for 18 to 24-year-olds, who “may be a particularly vulnerable cohort”.

The consultation on limits for younger gamblers will include options of a £2 stake limit per spin, a £4 stake limit per spin, or an approach based on individual risk.

Some gambling firms including Flutter, which owns Paddy Power, SkyBet and Betfair, imposed slot limits of £10 from September 2021.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the government will do more to “protect children” by “ensuring children can do no forms of gambling, either online or on widely accessible scratch cards”.

The new regulations also mean gamblers who are losing large amounts of money could face checks.

These will kick in when a gambler loses £1,000 in 24 hours, or £2,000 over 90 days. How these will be carried out is as yet unclear.

There is no new action being taken on advertising, to the dismay of campaigners. The government said measures that already exist go a long way to protect the most vulnerable.

‘Dither and delay’

The government also plans strengthen pub licensing laws to prevent children from playing slot machines with cash prizes in pubs, and to legislate to ban all lotteries from offering tickets to under 18s.

“Although we recently raised the age limit for the National Lottery to 18, other lottery and football pools products are still legally permitted from age 16,” the white paper noted.

The shadow culture secretary, Labour’s Lucy Powell, said: “We’ve long called for outdated gambling laws – introduced when smartphones weren’t part of our lives – to be updated so that they can tackle the challenges with gambling today.

“While Labour has called for change, ministers have dragged their feet with the chaos we’ve seen in government meaning many false starts. We’ve had 10 different ministers in charge of gambling policy since a white paper was first promised in December 2020.

There was further criticism from Louise Davies, director of advocacy and policy at charity Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), who questioned the need for consultation.

“After years of disappointment relating to this white paper it is galling to learn of more dither and delay from the government,” she said.

“The abuses of the gambling industry and the scale of gambling-related harms in Britain are crystal clear. There is no need for further consultation on measures that are broadly supported such as a statutory levy and affordability checks. We need legislation.”

Image caption, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer will unveil the government’s white paper on gambling on Thursday

The white paper marks the first new proposed regulation in the sector since the invention of the smartphone, which has revolutionised how we bet.

When the Gambling Act 2005 was introduced, most betting still took place in physical locations: betting shops, casinos and racetracks. The industry now makes two thirds of its revenues from online gambling.

Frazer, who outlined the plans in Parliament on Thursday, says the rise of smartphones means “now there’s a Las Vegas on every phone”.

The announcement of what the white paper actually contains has been delayed at least four times, since the review of gambling laws was first announced by Oliver Dowden, then culture secretary, in 2020.

Since then, there have been regular reports of individual cases of problem gamblers – but the government’s solution has been crafted by three different culture secretaries and three prime ministers without seeing the light of day.

Frazer told MPs: “When gambling becomes addiction, it can wreck lives. Shattered families, lost jobs, foreclosed homes, jail time, suicide.

“These are all the most extreme scenarios. But it is important we acknowledge that for some families those worst fears for their loved ones have materialised.”

She added: “Gambling problems in adults have always been measured in terms of money lost, but you cannot put a cost on the loss of dignity, the loss of identity, and, in some cases, the loss of life that it can cause.

“We need a new approach that recognises a flutter is one thing, unchecked addiction is another. So, today we are bringing our pre-smartphone regulations into the present day with a gambling white paper for the digital age.”

One of the proposals is a mandatory levy to be imposed on gambling firms, to be used to pay for addiction treatment and research. But it is not yet clear how that funding will be managed.

The white paper was welcomed by Ladbrokes owner Entain, which said it had already implemented a number of actions linked to the new proposals, and Paddy Power owner Flutter, which called it “a significant moment for the UK gambling sector”.

Conservative MP, Iain Duncan Smith, vice chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm, welcomed the white paper but said it does not go far enough to protect children from advertising.

Sir Iain said of the white paper: “I welcome this because this is at least a start, I think it’s a positive start. On advertising and children, I simply want to say – not far enough.”

But another Conservative MP, Philip Davies, criticised some of the measures. “The Conservative party used to believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility, but that seems to have gone out of the window with these affordability check proposals,” he said.

“Do the punters themselves get any say at all over how they can afford to spend their own hard-earned money?”

The white paper also includes the introduction of affordability checks to protect an estimated 300,000 problem gamblers in the UK

At the moment, the levy is voluntary and the money is not put into the NHS – which has not wanted to accept it, for ethical reasons.

The NHS has expanded its gambling-specific services in recent years. The plan would be to use some of the money raised from the new levy for NHS treatment in future.

A spokesperson for the DCMS said: “We are determined to protect those most at risk of gambling-related harm including young and vulnerable people.”

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, There could be a £2 or £4 limit on stake bets for younger gamblers using online slot machines

While regulation is increasing for online platforms, some rules are being relaxed in physical casinos in an effort to level the playing field.

For example, the government plans to allow debit cards to be used in gaming machines – and increase the number of machines allowed in small casinos.

Two parents bereaved by gambling-related suicide welcomed some of the proposals by the government but said more needs to be done, particularly on ending gambling advertising and on preventative affordability checks.

Liz and Charles Ritchie set up the charity Gambling with Lives following the death of their 24-year-old son Jack in 2017.

Ms Ritchie said: “After a long fight we’ve won concessions on some of the key areas, but so much more needs to happen to reduce the horrendous harm caused by one of the most loosely-regulated gambling industries in the world.

“We’ve won the argument against a powerful gambling lobby but this is just the beginning. There’s another family devastated by gambling suicide every day and we won’t stop until the deaths do.”

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Online slot games are designed to mimic slot machines in betting shops

Sources within the gambling industry have told the BBC the proposals will cause them financial pain. They will be examining them in detail to decide the full impact.

Others will be looking for any movement in company share prices in the coming hours to gauge market reaction. If there is little change or prices rise, campaigners will see that as proof that the government should have gone further.

Gareth – not his real name – lives in Wales. He has watched his son spiral into gambling addiction after he opened an online betting account on his 18th birthday and lost several thousand pounds in the first 24 hours.

“I wanted it to be illegal for gambling companies to have anything to do with sport, especially football. That was never going to happen as it’s big money involved,” Gareth told the BBC.

“They shouldn’t be able to advertise gambling at all on TV. You can’t advertise cocaine, or heroin.

“I love going to the races, knowing I’ll go in for six races, put a fiver on each and lose £30. That’s the majority of people. But for the minority, like my son, it’s not the races, it’s online slots, casinos, online bingo. It’s an addiction. They need protection”.

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