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The Gambling Commission is setting up three industry-led working groups to help take forward its ‘drive to make gambling safer’ (see GC newsletter 27 January 2020). The three groups will be considering: safer products, safer advertising online, and how incentives for high value customers can be made consistent with making gambling fairer, safer and crime-free.

The three groups will be led, respectively, by SG Gaming and Playtech, Sky Betting and Gaming, and Ladbrokes Coral owners GVC. All three will work closely with the Betting and Gaming Council, the association that represents 90% of the UK betting and gambling industry. Gambling Commission Chief Executive Neil McArthur said he had ‘been encouraged by the willingness of so many operators to work with us on these challenges’.

What’s wrong with that you might ask. Isn’t it a good thing that the industry is being challenged to change its ways?

The problem is that the Gambling Commission has been given a key role in pursuing the national harm reduction strategy. That itself is inappropriate in my view – the Government itself should be taking responsibility for the strategy, not the regulator which necessarily has to work closely with the industry. But now the industry has been invited to play a major role in moving towards more of a public health model of gambling regulation.

The conflict of interests must be starkly obvious to everyone. The industry’s first interests must be to preserve its profits and to maintain its image as a legitimate entertainment industry in the face of recent damage to its reputation. The new Gambling Commission working groups will give the industry a veneer of respectability, making them seem socially responsible or ‘woke’, in the process helping to fend off the pressure for real change. As Greta Thunberg said at the UN Climate Conference in Madrid in December, ‘the real danger is not inaction, it is when CEOs make it look as if something is happening when in fact almost nothing is happening’.

 

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