Gambling firms could be forced to ask punters for payslips to prevent unaffordable losses, the minister overseeing a landmark review of the sector has said, citing a “moral obligation” to tackle addiction.
Chris Philp, who took over as gambling minister in September, outlined a series of government proposals, indicating a tougher regulatory environment that would reduce industry revenues.
His comments were echoed by Andrew Rhodes, the head of the Gambling Commission, who said some operators were not complying with the rules and saw regulatory fines as a form of “tax”.
Philp, speaking at the annual conference of GambleAware, the charity administering funding for programmes to reduce gambling addiction, said: “I have heard too many stories of people who lost obviously unaffordable amounts of money … without proper checks being made by the gambling operators who had the data available. I have also heard about direct marketing, offers and VIP treatment being targeted at people with manifest gambling problems. This is not how gambling should operate, and we must take decisive measures to change it.”
Philp said a white paper outlining government proposals, to be published early next year, could include affordability checks, which would stop operators intervening only when a customer had lost large sums and it was “far too late”.
“Demanding payslips or bank statements from every customer spending £100 is probably going to be unwelcome, disruptive and disproportionate. But there is a level at which that is appropriate.”
He said data from credit rating agencies could be used to ensure “smooth and unobtrusive” initial checks were made on punters who spent smaller sums, with “more intrusive” checks at higher levels of spending.
The minister said it was “critical” that gambling operators were forced to share data about people displaying signs of addiction, through a “single customer view” system.
Campaigners are concerned that the industry is being left to develop this system, but Philp suggested the government was also considering other options.
He indicated that the Gambling Commission would receive more funding to improve its regulatory capacity, including greater powers to “requisition” and analyse data in bulk from gambling companies to ensure they were not exploiting vulnerable people. “All of us have a moral obligation to protect our fellow citizens who are in the grip of a severe clinical addiction that has devastated many lives,” he said.
Speaking at the same event, Rhodes said gaming and betting companies were still failing in their duty to protect problem gamblers, despite their efforts to show improved behaviour before the review. “Too many operators are not complying with our rules,” he said.
“This year is on course to be our busiest year,” he added, saying gambling companies had come to view regulatory fines and settlements, which have reached £100m since 2017, as a “compliance tax”.
“We still see cases that make everyone blush,” he said. “That has to stop.”
Rhodes criticised gambling companies for saying the parallel market would thrive if tighter regulation were introduced – claims repeated by some MPs who had enjoyed hospitality from the industry. He said this was too often used as an excuse.
Zoe Osmond, chief executive of GambleAware, said: “We welcome the minister’s announcement that the government is working with the Gambling Commission to take steps to better protect people at risk of gambling harms through affordability checks, a single customer view, and a data repository to inform intervention and uphold industry standards.”
She also called on the government to impose a mandatory levy on gambling firms to fund addiction research, education and treatment. Philp’s predecessors have so far resisted recommendations to replace the existing voluntary system.