More than 20 MPs have called for strict curbs on gambling during the Covid-19 lockdown, including a moratorium on advertising, calling the betting industry’s own proposals “very weak”.
The Betting & Gaming Council (BGC) issued a 10-point pledge last week, promising extra steps to ensure that firms do not exploit vulnerable people and addicts who may be at increased risk due to the inertia inherent in staying at home for long periods.
But in a letter to the government – and the BGC – 22 MPs, two Lords and one of the UK’s foremost gambling addiction experts said the measures put forward by the trade body were either weak, vague or already formed part of requirements of their licence to operate.
“People are at home and are severely restricted, with access to mini-casinos on their laptops or mobile phones,” they wrote in a letter to Nigel Huddleston, the minister responsible for gambling. “We therefore have deep concerns about the ‘pledges’ which have been proposed this week by the BGC.”
They called on the government to urge the industry to adopt five measures during the Covid-19 lockdown, including an end to controversial VIP schemes that reward heavy losses and a suspension of advertising and bonus offers.
Stakes on “highly dangerous” slot games should be limited to £2, they recommended, while the industry should impose mandatory limits on betting account deposits, rather than simply encouraging customers to set their own.
They also called on companies to release internal data to independent researchers to help them assess the scale of harm caused by gambling during the coronavirus outbreak compared with normal circumstances.
The group of MPs, from across the political spectrum, includes the former sports minister Tracey Crouch, whose resignation from Theresa May’s government in 2018 triggered a successful cross-party rebellion against a planned delay to curbs on maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
It also includes longstanding gambling campaigners such as Labour’s Carolyn Harris, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith and the Scottish National party’s Ronnie Cowan.
Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, also signed the letter. She said: “The UK does not shield its young and vulnerable from gambling advertising despite research showing that exposure to gambling will act as a trigger to gamble even in young people. This is not in keeping with a public health approach.
“Our country has at least 50,000 children who are problem gamblers. With the current lockdown, many more will be tempted by boredom and financial concerns to try gambling as a way out. Now, more than ever, at this time of uncertainty, a moral code is required from the gambling industry.”