Andrew Rhodes

Facing the facts on the road to safer gambling

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Whilst many will be discussing the merits or otherwise of ‘safer gambling’ during this Safer Gambling Week, Gambling Commission CEO, Andrew Rhodes, offers his reflections and the need to see much greater compliance from the industry across the board.

I’m a big football fan and a long-time supporter of Swansea City (no need, I’ve heard them all). As any football fan will tell you, the best matches are when you don’t notice the referee. Clean competition, where no one’s hurt and everyone goes home having been entertained. I sometimes think there are a lot of parallels between the job of a football ref and our job at the Gambling Commission.

In an ideal world we would have little to do. But we’re nowhere near that. The last few years is a tale of escalating enforcement by the Commission, not less. Now we want to get to that ideal, with the level of harm caused by gambling dwindling, and having a constructive and collaborative relationship with industry can be part of how we get there. From my meetings with industry, I know operators want that too. But if we want a grown up relationship, we need to start from shared facts.

First, gambling is normal. Some will attack that statement, but we shouldn’t shy away from it. Over 40% of the population gambled in the last four weeks and over half of them did so online. That’s tens of millions, buying a lottery ticket, betting on sport, playing bingo and the rest.

But another fact we shouldn’t shy away from is that gambling exists to make a profit, taking money from its customers. At over £14 billion, gambling in Great Britain is the size of British agriculture. £450 per second was lost by people gambling in Great Britain in 2019/20. For millions this is the cost of having a good time.

But for hundreds of thousands of people it’s problem gambling. It is harm.

It’s people suffering from financial, mental and physical harm because of either their own gambling or that of their loved ones or friends. It’s real, life-changing and can happen to anyone.

It’s also a churning, changing group of people too. There is nothing static about it.

Gambling is normal but harm must not be. We will continue to work to drive the levels of harm down. There are still far too many operators not abiding by our rules and that is not acceptable. We want a constructive relationship with industry. But it must be on the basis of compliance and for all the good efforts made, we still see too many instances of things that everyone agrees are things we should not be seeing. These things are not historic – they are happening now.

And this is why the Single Customer View project is such a great opportunity for industry.

This is not some Big Brother style ‘gamblers register’. It’s about helping operators solve their own problem. Look at Pubs. There is a point where a Pub landlord will stop serving you, often as much for your own good as it is for their business. And other Pubs won’t serve that same customer either. Good operators don’t want to serve a customer who has already had enough elsewhere. The Single Customer View is about preventing just that. We know it’s technically possible. The ICO has published on how it can be done safely, protecting people’s data. It’s now for industry to trial a solution.

I’m clear on the road ahead and so is the Commission. We are more focussed than ever on our core purpose of making gambling fairer, safer and crime free. We want to collaborate with the gambling industry in this work. But to do so we all need to face the facts.

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