Wednesday, November 30

MPs criticize UK gambling regulator for trying to curb addiction | Play

A committee of parliamentarians has produced a report criticizing the gambling industry regulator for trying to curb addiction and urging ministers to take special action.

The findings of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on betting and gaming have been described as “ridiculous” by a campaigner for regulatory reform and were received coldly by the regulator.

The APPG describes itself as a political “middle man” for the sector and is one of hundreds of parliamentary groups that have come under scrutiny for alleged links to lobbying. Several of its members have faced criticism for receiving thousands of pounds in gifts from betting companies. On Sunday night, the APPG’s deputy chairman, Labor MP Conor McGinn, revealed that he had resigned from the group over the report and did not want to be associated with it.

He launched an investigation into the Gambling Commission last year. When asked to share their findings, the group refused. But The Guardian has obtained a draft of his report.

The MPs’ draft labels the commission as “urgently in need of change” and says it is too harsh and risks “the destruction of one of the best gaming industries in the world”. [sic]”, leading to growth on the black market.

He accuses the commission of “acting ultra vires [beyond its remit] in its strategy of seeking to significantly reduce the number of problem gamblers.”

MPs accuse the regulator, which has taken a tougher stance amid growing public concern over gambling addiction, of displaying an “intimidating attitude that has caused mental harm” within the industry and call on the government to adopt ” special measures” while you determine if you can “carry on as is.”

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The intervention comes weeks before the government is to publish the results of a once-in-a-generation review of gambling laws, and the commission is believed to be playing a major role in finalizing the proposals.

Several of the APPG MPs have come under fire for accepting gifts from the gaming industry while defending it in parliament or in the media, although it is not against parliamentary rules for them to do so.

The group’s chairman, Conservative MP Scott Benton, accepted tickets worth £7,494.60 last summer for Euro 2020 and Ascot courtesy of Ladbrokes owner Entain, online gaming firm Gamesys and Betting and Gaming. Council (BGC), an industry lobby group.

Labor MP John Spellar’s days at Lord’s and Euro 2020, funded by Paddy Power owner Flutter and BGC, were worth £2,835.80.

Conservative MP Aaron Bell, who used to work for Bet365, attended three Euro 2020 matches with Entain, Flutter and Gamesys, accepting tickets worth £6,955.60. Last year he told The Guardian that he had “quickly and transparently declared all hospitality”.

McGinn told The Guardian on Sunday night that he was not involved in writing the report, did not agree with or endorse it, and had resigned from the group last week.

A Gambling Commission spokesman said: “Some sections of the industry will never be content with a regulator that continually pushes for safer gaming.” They said the commission “would need time to review [the report’s] content” and that he had not heard from the APPG before receiving it.

“As an industry regulator, we look forward to hearing from them in an official capacity to respond to views on the Gaming Commission and clarify inaccurate assumptions, as well as share our regulatory approach,” they said.

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Previous reports from the public accounts committee and the National Audit Office have concluded that the regulator is not tough enough.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of campaign group Clean Up Gambling, said: “It is amazing that, in the midst of a gambling review, pro-industry MPs want to publish this ridiculous report complaining about regulation.

“The growth of online gambling and the harm associated with it has increased exponentially under the supervision of the Gambling Commission. In any case, operators should be thanking the regulator. What we need is a regulatory overhaul that empowers the Gaming Commission to ensure much more prescriptive rules, more comprehensive oversight of licensees, and penalties for noncompliance.”

The Guardian has approached the APPG and MPs who have received hospitality from the gaming industry for comment.

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