A cap on the amount punters can stake in online bets is among a number of Labour proposals to tackle the “public health emergency” of problem gambling, the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson has announced.
In a major shake-up of online gambling laws, the party said it would impose limits on the amount people can spend, the speed with which games can be played, and the prizes up for grabs.
In a speech in London on Thursday, shadow culture secretary Mr Watson said the 2005 Gambling Act is “analogue legislation not fit for the digital age” as online gamblers do not have the same protections as those in betting shops or casinos.
WATCH LIVE NOW: Today, in a speech at the IPPR, I am setting out Labour's new plans to tackle online gambling and deal with the hidden epidemic of gambling addiction. #ReformGambling 👇
Posted by Tom Watson on Thursday, February 28, 2019
Labelling problem gambling “Britain’s hidden epidemic”, Mr Watson said the 2005 Act is “clearly out of date and failing to meet the needs of the digital age”.
He pointed out that online gambling is only mentioned twice in the 14-year-old legislation, compared with five references to the postal service.
Mr Watson also raised concerns about a lack of monitoring of spending in online gambling, using the example: “Offline slot games have a maximum stake of £2; online, that does not exist.”
Regulations aimed at tackling money-laundering require checks if an individual gambles more than £1,500 in a day, but Mr Watson said that in online gambling these checks tend to be when a gambler is attempting to withdraw money from their account rather than as they are betting.
He said: “There needs to be a system of thresholds and due diligence that can check affordability before a gambler can start placing higher deposits.
“Labour will apply limits to the level of spend, and stake limits should be enforced on certain products.
“Profits have come before consumer protection for far too long.”
Mr Watson also announced a consultation on the links between popular online video games and gambling.
In January the creators of the hugely popular Fortnite game said it would show users the contents of £7.99 loot boxes before they purchase them in the Save The World version of the game, after criticism that gamers were buying them “blind”.
The “gamer’s consultation” will look at loot boxes and skins, cosmetic items that change the way a character looks on screen.
Speaking at the policy launch, Professor Sian Griffiths, deputy chairwoman of charity Gamble Aware, estimated as many as 500,000 11 to 16-year-olds spend money on gambling, and “that should ring alarm bells in all of us”.
“There is a need to protect children. We need to be looking at the similarities between gaming and gambling.”
A spokesman for the Remote Gambling Association said: “We fully embrace the need to move faster to tackle problem gambling through effective regulation based on innovation, evidence and customer data and we are committed to working with the Government and Opposition to achieve that goal.”
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: “While millions of people gamble online responsibly, it is paramount that vulnerable people are protected from the threat of gambling-related harm.
“There are robust requirements to safeguard players across every form of gambling and to prevent money-laundering. All operators must adhere to these rules if they wish to operate in the British market.
“We constantly keep regulations under review and do not hesitate to act when needed. The Gambling Commission has a range of powers, for offline and online gambling, and we expect it to take the strongest possible action against any company that breaks the rules.”