The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
Mr Speaker, I hope you will accept my apologies for any offence caused by some of the information already being out there. I can assure you that the full details and the call for evidence document are only just now being released and made available on the gov.uk website, precisely to coincide with this statement, but I understand and accept what you said.
The Gambling Act has been the basis of virtually all gambling regulation in the UK since 2005, but a huge amount has changed since then. The internet and the prevalence of smartphones have transformed the way we work, play, shop and gamble. We can now gamble anywhere at any time. It is time to take stock of the significant changes of the last 15 years and to pull our legal and regulatory framework into the digital age, so today, we are launching the first part of our comprehensive review of the Gambling Act. It will be a wide-ranging and evidence-led look at the industry, and it will consider the many issues that have been raised by parliamentarians and many other stakeholders. We want to listen, gather the evidence and think deeply about what we need for the next decade and beyond.
Nearly half the adult population gambles each month and, for the majority of people, gambling is a fun and carefree leisure activity. It is also a sector that supports 100,000 jobs and pays nearly £3 billion a year in taxes. However, we know that, in some cases, gambling can cause significant damage to people’s lives, including mental health problems, relationship breakdown, debt and, in extreme cases, suicide. We must ensure that our regulatory and legislative framework delivers on a core aim of the 2005 Act: the protection of children and vulnerable people in a fair, open and crime-free gambling economy.
This review will seek to strike a careful balance between giving individuals the freedom to choose how they spend their own money, while protecting vulnerable people and their families from gambling-related harm. We will look at whether we should introduce new protections on online products and consumer accounts, including stake and prize limits, and how we can ensure that children and young people are protected. We will also consider gambling advertising, including sports sponsorship, while taking into account the extremely difficult financial situation that many sports organisations and broadcasters find themselves in as a result of covid. We will look at redress arrangements for consumers where, for example, an operator has failed to step in to help a problem gambler. We will consider barriers to effective research on the causes and impact of problem gambling, and we will consider whether the Gambling Commission is keeping pace with the licensed sector and can effectively deal with unlicensed operators. We will also ensure that we have a fair playing field for online and offline gambling.
Many of those areas were highlighted in a thought-provoking report by the House of Lords Select Committee. That report and others have helped to inform our thinking and our desire to ensure that the review is wide in scope, and we are publishing our response to the Lords report alongside the review. I also know that Members across the House have seen evidence from their constituents about the harm that gambling can do to individuals and their families. We want to hear from the people whose lives have been affected by gambling, as well as from academics and the gambling industry, so that we have the evidence to deliver real and lasting change. We are therefore starting the review with a call for evidence, which will run for 16 weeks and is now available on the gov.uk website.
While this review is an opportunity to consider changes for the future, we are also taking action now to protect people from gambling harm. The Gambling Commission will continue to build on recent progress to strengthen protections as the industry regulator. Our ban on gambling with credit cards came into force in April, and new tighter rules on VIP schemes were implemented at the end of October. Further work is also in progress on the design of online slot games, as well as on how operators identify and intervene to protect customers who may be at risk, including through affordability checks. We have also just closed a call for evidence on loot boxes, and the Department of Health and Social Care will keep working to improve and expand treatment for problem gambling.
A key priority is ensuring that we have the right protections for children and young people and, again, that cannot wait. To that end, we are also today publishing a response to the consultation on the minimum age to play national lottery games. Since its launch in 1994, the national lottery has been a tremendous success, raising more than £42 billion for good causes. Since 1994, its games portfolio has evolved significantly, while consumers have shifted towards online play and instant win games such as scratchcards. While evidence shows that most 16 and 17-year-olds do not experience gambling-related harm from playing the national lottery, some recent studies point to a possible correlation between national lottery play at 16 and 17 and problem gambling in later life. Moreover, few other countries allow 16 and 17-year-olds to purchase their national lottery products.
Protecting young people from the risk of gambling-related harm is of paramount importance. We have therefore decided to increase the minimum age of the sale of all national lottery games to the age of 18. We are keen to make this change at pace while being acutely aware of the need to give retailers and the operator time to ensure a smooth transition. The legislative change will therefore come into force in October 2021, but we have asked that, where it can be done sooner, it is—for example, online. So under current plans, national lottery sales to 16 and 17-year-olds will stop online in April 2021.
The review we are starting today will be an opportunity to look at the wider rules on children and gambling, and to make sure they are suitably protected across all forms of gambling. I know many colleagues will welcome the launch of this review today and will be pleased to see us living up to our commitments in the 2019 manifesto. We intend to be broad, thorough and evidence led, so that we can ensure our gambling laws are fit for purpose in the 2020s and beyond. I commend this statement to the House.