England & Wales Communities and society, Culture, sport and tourism, Health and social care, Welfare and equalities

Viewpoint: Gambling and local authorities – out of sight out of mind?


Local authorities are going to have to publish revised Statements of Gambling Policy by January next year. Rob Burkitt of the Gambling Commission explains how these can help councils better protect their communities.

It’s no accident that gambling is often called the hidden addiction. Apart from applications for betting shops (and the number of those premises is in decline) the licensing committee is unlikely to be disturbed by complaints from residents. Alcohol, graffiti and dog dirt will all score more highly in any councillor’s inbox….and yet there are 480,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain, 2 million at risk gamblers and 4.2 million people affected by them. The cost to employers and others is also considerable. Only recently one local authority employee was convicted of defrauding them of over £1m to fund gambling addiction. Nationally the fiscal cost to the State is estimated to be £1.2bn.

Gambling regulation is shared between licensing authorities and the Gambling Commission. By working closely together we can ensure that all citizens, especially the young and vulnerable, receive the protections they require. Our new three year strategy calls on the industry to move ‘further and faster’ in protecting consumers. We have also imposed a number of penalties on gambling businesses for breaching regulations such as those relating to social responsibility requirements, most recently £6.2m on William Hill.

So how can a local authority better protect its citizens? This year all licensing authorities are required to consult on revisions to their Statement of Gambling Policy and to publish a new one in January 2019. This should be much more than a paper exercise. It enables the authority to make clear its expectations of operators, how they will behave with regard to the young and vulnerable and to improve protections where required. A quick guide produced by us gives councillors an overview of this process. The Policy is not only a legal requirement, it is one of the factors which can be taken into consideration by an authority when a gambling premises is not compliant. Apart from that the consultation on the Policy is also a really constructive way to engage with other agencies like the police and the safeguarding boards for both adults and young people.

Recently a number of authorities have also started to work with public health teams on gambling issues. This new area of work is driven by a number of factors – not least the co-morbidities between gambling harm and issues which affect the target groups for public health such as mental wellbeing and addictions like alcohol or drugs. Some health teams, such as Leeds, have started from a financial inclusion perspective. Because most agencies (for example debt and housing advice services) do not screen for gambling harm, and the signs are less visible, it is only now that agencies are starting to realise that the person who is in rent arrears or is experiencing depression may also be a problem gambler. Our briefing paper sets out the case for engagement with public health teams.

We will continue to work closely with licensing authorities and other agencies in driving up standards in the gambling industry and improving the protections for all citizens, especially those who are young and vulnerable to harm.

Rob Burkitt is Lead – Shared Regulation and Better Regulation at the Gambling Commission; [email protected]