Debate on Gambling Harm, House of Lords, 27 April 2022

Gambling related harm continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of those directly affected, their families and wider communities. Councils are committed to continuing to prevent gambling-related harm in their communities and helping those affected to get the support they need recover and rebuild their lives.


Key messages

  • Gambling related harm continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of those directly affected, their families and wider communities. When problem gambling leads to spiralling debt, homelessness and relationship breakdowns, it also has a significant impact on public services and the public purse. Councils are committed to continuing to prevent gambling related harm in their communities and helping those affected to get the support they need recover and rebuild their lives.
  • The House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry, published their report ‘Gambling Harm- time for action,’ in 2019. It included over 50 important recommendations to reform the gambling industry and make it safer. We look forward to the publication of the White Paper on the Gambling Act, to address the issues highlighted in the report, introduce tougher national regulations and ensure councils have the tools to protect communities from harm.
  • Councils have a statutory duty to reduce harms from gambling premises. However, it is the LGA’s view that councils currently do not have the full powers that they need to manage local gambling premises effectively or tackle problem gambling at the local population level. Critically, councils do not have the power to prevent new gambling premises from opening, even where there are good reasons for them not to. For example, because there is already a cluster of premises in an area, or the location is not appropriate, for instance, near to supported housing, treatment centres or schools.
  • To rectify this, we have been calling for the White Paper to bring forward more flexible powers for councils to determine the number and location of local gambling premises in their area. This will help tackle ‘clustering’ and empower councils to create well- designed places that meet residents’ needs.  
  • It is also vital that the Government brings forward tougher regulations on the gambling industry, to ensure practices are safe and responsible. This should include introducing more protections for those gambling online, and restrictions on the volume of gambling advertising, particularly where it can be seen by children – for example, during televised or live sport as well as for greater control on sponsorship.
  • The LGA supports the cross-sector call to introduce a mandatory levy on gambling firms to help fund a significant expansion of gambling treatment services. The levy should be based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, so those companies and sectors of the market causing the greatest harm pay the most.
     
  • Licensing fees for gambling premises are nationally set and have not been increased since 2007, and as a result some councils are losing money by processing licenses. We would like to see fee caps locally set to allow councils to bring fees in line with local costs and bring services on to a sustainable footing. At the very least, Government should review and increase the national fee cap.

Boosting councils’ powers to tackle harmful gambling

It is the LGA’s view that councils do not have the full powers that they need to effectively manage local gambling premises or tackle problem gambling at the local population level. Under the Gambling Act 2005, licensing authorities currently have contradictory mix of powers. For example, councils can prevent the opening of local casinos through a ‘no casino resolution’ and the linked restriction of new licences. However, because of the ‘statutory aim to permit,’ councils have no real power to refuse applications for other types of gambling premises, such as betting shops, even if the location is not appropriate.  

Following the introduction of the ‘statutory aim to permit,’ ‘clustering’ of betting shops, and other types of gambling premises like bingo halls and adult gaming centres, on the high street increased. Evidence shows that clusters are typically located in more deprived areas, where the harm from problem gambling may be exacerbated. This has had an adverse impact on those communities and is an ongoing area of concern for councils and the public.

To address this issue, the Government’s Review of the Gambling Act should bring forward more flexible powers for councils, including enabling democratically elected councillors to determine the number of local gambling premises in a local area if a decision can be shown to be in the interests of the local community. This could be implemented in a similar way to ‘cumulative impact areas’, which were introduced in the Licensing Act 2003, and allow councils to reject premises licenses in specific area if they are deemed to have a negative cumulative impact.

Government should also prioritise introducing a new legal power for councils to break the ‘statutory aim to permit’ if this is necessary. These measures will be vital to stop the proliferation of gambling premises in concentrated areas and allow councils to design places that meet residents’ and the local economies’ needs.

More robust regulations on industry

There are increasing calls from across the health sector for gambling to be approached as a public health issue. Problem gambling is a complex problem, therefore traditional approaches that focus on supporting individuals with single interventions, such as addiction support, do not tend to work at the population level. In addition to investment in the range of public services that support those with problem gambling, Government urgently needs to put in place more robust regulations to protect people from harm.

Although online gambling and gambling advertising is outside the scope of councils’ regulatory responsibilities, we are concerned the current system of online protections is failing to prevent gambling harm. Gamblers are able to spend very large sums of money, without any checks on their financial ability to pay, within short periods of time and without effective operator intervention. The White Paper must address this issue and set out more robust regulations on the gambling industry to ensure that gambling is offered in a safe and responsible way.

We are also calling for the Government to restrict the volume of gambling advertising, particularly where it can be seen by children – for example, during televised or live sport as well as for greater control on sponsorship. We hope that the Gambling Act Review will address this.

Industry support for gambling treatment

The LGA supports the cross-sector call to introduce a mandatory levy on gambling firms to help fund a significant expansion of treatment and support for those experiencing gambling related harm throughout the country. This would help to ensure long-term security and continuity in funding, and help enable services to offer more comprehensive support to all who need it.

The levy should be based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, so those companies and sectors of the market causing the greatest harm pay the most. While the commitment from a small number of large operators to increase voluntary contributions to one per cent is welcome, this should be put on a statutory footing. This view is supported by other organisations, including GambleAware. We would welcome any move to introduce a mandatory levy in the Review.

Licensing fees and funding

A further area of concern for authorities is gambling licence fees. Nationally set licence fee caps have not been increased since 2007 and should be updated to reflect the increases in associated costs since then. We are calling for local flexibility to allow councils to set fees in line with the costs of administering a license, in line with taxi and private hire vehicle licenses and other areas of licensing. However, if the Department chooses to maintain a national rate or cap, then it is vital that the rate is at least increased in line with inflation since 2007.

Contact

Megan Edwards, Public Affairs and Campaigns Advisor

megan.edwards@local.gov.uk