Regulation has been hitting the gambling industry harder and harder in recent years. The news is difficult to avoid, as more and more rules are put in place to attempt to resolve the issue of problem gambling. For government bodies, it is a natural and a given that the way to combat these issues is through laws and further, stricter regulation—but is this really the case? Does stricter gambling regulation actually help in combating problem gambling?
Let’s look at some arguments for and against the idea that it is working.
Regulations are working
Let’s start by looking at some of the positives. There are certainly some very important changes that have been made in recent years to gambling laws which have doubtless had a net positive effect. For instance, one of the areas in gambling which has historically faced the most scrutiny is advertising. The Premier League is a big issue, with almost half of its 20 teams sponsored by betting companies. This results in betting advertisements being seen extremely commonly in any Premier League game.
Another important change has been on fixed odds betting machines. The stake limits have been massively reduced, as these machines have been a huge problem area for problem gamblers. Reducing opportunities for these kinds of high-risk high-reward bets is a good step in the right direction.
Children and young people are an important demographic for reviewing problem gambling statistics, and the number of children who have participated in gambling within the last 7 days has halved over the last decade. In 2011, the figure was 23%–by 2019, it had reduced to only 11%.
So, clearly, regulations are working to some degree. But these figures only tell part of the story, and it seems there is more work to be done in the future.
Regulations are not working
While regulations are clearly making some headway in resolving the issue, it’s plain to see that problem gambling is far from gone yet. In fact, at the moment, the demand for support services for issues surrounding problem gambling is at an all-time high. Whereas previously there was a total of five specialist clinics in England for supporting those with gambling addictions, two more have needed to be opened to meet demand.
Current figures suggest that around 0.5% of the population, roughly 246,000 people, have an ongoing gambling addiction. A further 2.2 million are at risk of problem gambling. Since 2012, ONS figures show that this figure has remained roughly consistent. So, the numbers do not lie—there are roughly as many problem gamblers now as there were a decade ago.
Regulations alone, many would say, are just not enough. While services like Gamstop protect users when they’re gambling at sites like the bookmaker 888sport, they don’t protect users if they go offshore. Problem gambling is only in part an issue with the practises of operators. Better support for the root causes of problem gambling must be implemented, as laws alone are, at the moment, plainly not doing enough to mitigate the problem. Regulations are important, but they’re not the only game in town.
There’s clearly a couple of ways to look at this, then. On the one hand, it’s quite clear to see that problem gambling shows no signs of slowing down in the UK, despite the range of new regulations which have been brought in in recent years. But at the same time, bringing new regulations in is one thing. It doesn’t mean that those regulations are adequate to address the problem. Regulations need to target the correct areas, and the same amount of money and energy needs to be put into support and aid for problem gamblers.