Britain’s gambling watchdog is failing to protect gamers from falling into addiction, the government spending watchdog warns today.
In a damning report, the National Audit Office (NAO) said the Gambling Commission is not big enough to tame the £11billion industry in the UK.
The ‘small regulator’ only has a £19million budget to tackle a ‘dynamic’ and rapidly changing sector, it said.
In the wake of the report, the Church of England branded the regulator ‘clunky, dated and chronically short of money’.
The NAO found the commission was failing to keep up with the pace of technological change – as it struggles to recruit skilled staff to deal with increasingly complex cases involving addictive online apps and sites.
The Commission still does not fully understand how mobile gambling causes addiction, added the NAO.
In a damning report, the National Audit Office (NAO) said the Gambling Commission is not big enough to tame the £11billion industry in the UK (stock image)
It said the regulator understood it had a clear aim to make gambling safer, but was unable to explain in detail exactly what it is doing to achieve that. It has, for example, never set any targets to bring down the number of UK addicts from 340,000.
The Commission’s sluggish approach to protecting consumers from predatory practices has meant, in some cases, it has taken many years to implement change.
For example, it told the Government that rules on fixed odds betting terminals needed to be tightened in 2013 – but the law was not changed until 2018.
The report said: ‘The Gambling Commission is a small regulator in a challenging and dynamic industry. The Commission is unlikely to be fully effective in addressing risks and harms to consumers within current arrangements.’
The industry has grown by £4billion in real terms in the past decade, but the Commission, an industry-funded quango, can only ask for more money every four years.
But despite the shortfall, it has never laid out what resources it needs to carry out its work, the report said. In recent years, the Commission has fined more operators, handing out nine penalties totalling £19.6million in 2018-19 – but the report said it was unclear whether these fines are an effective deterrent.
Last year, GVC, which owns Ladbrokes and Coral, was fined £5.9million for failing to protect vulnerable customers – a fraction of its £2.9billion revenue.
There are 340,000 problem gamblers and 55,000 children suffering with a gambling addiction, hitting the public purse by up to £1.2billion
Last night, Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling, said: ‘The Government must urgently intervene to ensure that the gambling industry, particularly the online sector, parts of which seem to operate like the wild-west, is properly regulated and that consumers are protected.’
And The Lord Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said: ‘Many of us in Parliament are stunned by the sheer magnitude and scale of gambling firms’ profits when the regulator, reliant on their funding, seems clunky, dated and chronically short of money.’
There are 340,000 problem gamblers and 55,000 children suffering with a gambling addiction, hitting the public purse by up to £1.2billion.
The Gambling Commission responded: ‘We agree with the report’s assessment that we face the significant challenge of regulating a dynamic and developing industry. It also underlines the constraints that our current funding arrangements presents and we are developing proposals to discuss this with DCMS [The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport].’
- Online bookie Mr Green has been hit with a £3million fine for failing to protect gambling addicts. The Gambling Commission also said the firm, which UK giant William Hill bought last year, did not have effective procedures to check customers were using legitimate sources of cash.