House of Lords Library

Gambling-related Harms

Published Thursday, October 31, 2019

This House of Lords Library Briefing contains a selection of material relevant for the forthcoming question for short debate on gaming and gambling that takes place on 5 November 2019.

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  • Although there is no explicit definition for gambling-related harm, the Gambling Commission, which is responsible for regulating gambling and supervising gaming law in Great Britain, define the term as covering “adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society”. Gambling-related harms can include: financial instability; disruption or erosion of partnerships and familial relationships; and physical ill-health.
  • Gambling in gaming is varied and can comprise many forms. This includes gaming machines and in-game purchases. For example, loot boxes provide players with the opportunity to acquire an unknown quantity and quality of items for use within the game.
  • In Great Britain in 2018, the Gambling Commission found that 46 percent of respondents aged 16 or over had participated in at least one form of gambling in the month prior to the survey. This figure had remained stable since the previous year. The National Lottery was the most popular form of gambling, followed by scratchcards and other lotteries. Football and horse racing were the most popular betting activities. 21 percent of respondents had participated in “online gambling-style games” (a 3 percentage point decrease from 2017).
  • The latest annual survey by the Gambling Commission found that 11 percent of 11 to 16-year-olds (350,000) spent their own money on a gambling activity in the week prior to the survey. In comparison to other harmful activities, the rate of gambling in the past week among young people is lower than the rates of drinking alcohol (16%), but higher than using e-cigarettes (7%) smoking tobacco cigarettes (6%) and taking illegal drugs (5%). The survey also found that 2 percent of young people personally visited a betting shop to play a gaming machine in the week prior to the survey.
  • In 2016, the Government launched a review into gaming machines and social responsibility measures. As part of this, it published a consultation in October 2017 focusing on the maximum stakes at gaming machines and measures for the industry to reduce gambling-related harm. In response, the Government made several proposals, including reducing the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 to £2, which took effect in April 2019.
  • In February 2019, the Labour Party proposed controls on online gambling, including caps on the amount that consumers can gamble. Tom Watson, the deputy leader of Labour, has also called for the Gambling Commission to have oversight of gambling in gaming. The Gambling Commission has previously stated that loot boxes in games did not meet the Gambling Act 2005’s definition of gambling.
  • In September 2019, the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust opened the NHS Northern Gambling Service, which is the first of its kind outside London, as part of a new network of services for addicts being rolled out as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
  • In the same month, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report into its inquiry on immersive and addictive technologies, which included examining the links between gaming and gambling. The committee called on the Government to bring forward regulations under section 6 of the Gambling Act 2005 to specify that loot games are a “game of chance” and should be considered gambling under UK law. It is awaiting a response by the Government.
  • In October 2019, the Children’s Commissioner published a report examining children’s participation with gaming. It found that the monetisation of gaming, through in-game purchases, “brings children closer to gambling”. As part of her policy recommendations, the commissioner called for gambling laws to be “updated” to “reflect the reality” of children’s experiences of spending money within games.

Lords Library notes LLN-2019-0147

Author: Eren Waitzman

Topic: Gambling

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