Culture minister Maria Miller backs pop-up alerts to curb gambling

NEW safeguards are to be introduced in an attempt to curb addiction to high-stakes gambling machines in betting shops.

The move comes ahead of a report to be published this week showing that people in Britain’s 55 poorest boroughs gamble more and lose twice as much on the machines as those in more affluent areas.

In the poorer areas, £470m was lost on high-speed gambling machines in 2,691 betting shops last year, more than double the £231m lost in 1,258 shops in more affluent areas, according to the report by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

Miller wants the gambling industry to force players to preset the amount of money they will gamble before they start playing. Currently players can wager £100 every 20 seconds. The culture secretary will also ask the Advertising Standards Authority to look at controls on advertising gambling.

New figures show a 600% increase in gambling advertising on television between 2006 and 2012.

Miller says a voluntary code recently announced by the gaming industry is a “good starting point” but needs to be tougher and enforceable. Under the code a message pops up on the machines when a user has played for 30 minutes or has gambled £250.

Miller wants the code to be mandatory and has asked the Gambling Commission, which regulates the industry, to go even further and consider introducing more regular pop-up warnings.

“£250 is a lot of money to spend before getting a pop-up message and a player can spend a lot of money in 30 minutes,” she said.

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Bookies will be forced to take action

Measures to protect gamblers from spending too much too quickly on betting shop machines are to become mandatory, writes culture secretary Maria Miller.
Problem gambling is a serious issue and we are determined to help tackle it. Of course we want a successful gambling industry but not at the price of public protection. I have always said that we won’t be afraid to act if we need to and in recent months we have had several Westminster summits to make it clear to the bookmakers that this is a real area of concern.

Yesterday the gambling industry responded to that pressure and introduced new player protection measures on fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops. These measures include suspensions in play if voluntary limits are put in place and reached and alerts that pop up on the machine to tell players that they’ve been playing for 30 minutes or when £250 has been spent. This was a good step forward.

However, these measures are part of a voluntary code, meaning that the decision still lies with individual bookmakers as to whether they will apply them. Given the serious concerns, this is clearly not enough.

Therefore, I have decided that these player protections must be made mandatory so that every bookmaker must abide by the new rules. I have asked the Gambling Commission to make sure this happens. In the future, these rules will therefore form part of the operators’ licence conditions and bookmakers will have to accept them or not be able to trade. The voluntary code is a good starting point but it needs to be tougher and enforceable. This will make sure it is.

I want the player protections to be strengthened even further because it’s essential that people who gamble are properly protected. I am therefore asking the Gambling Commission if the £250 limit before you see a pop-up message is too high and whether we should reduce it. It seems to me that £250 is a lot of money to spend before a pop-up message kicks in.

Equally it seems to me that half an hour is a long time to spend playing a machine so I am asking if we should shorten the duration before an alert appears. After all, a player can spend a lot of money in the space of 30 minutes. Of course playing time is up to individuals but it needs to be a conscious choice and reminding players of the time they have been playing will stop them losing track of the time, and indeed of the money, they have spent.

Industry members recognise the need for players to stay in control and have therefore agreed to start putting new social responsibility messaging in their shop windows, encouraging players to set spending limits before they start play. But I think we should go further and insist that players have to pre-set the amount of money they intend to spend or the time they intend to play for. We want the first message that players see when they use these machines to be one that helps them stay in control and play responsibly.

Once people are playing gambling machines, it is vital that protection is in place. But we also need to think about why people are playing these machines in the first place. That’s where advertising comes in. I want the industry to consider ending all machine advertising in shop windows.

I also think we need to look again at the regulation of gambling advertising across the UK. In particular, I ask myself if the seemingly constant gambling adverts on television are appropriate. Ofcom figures show a 600% increase in television gambling advertising between 2006 and 2012. This concerns me and I think many people feel uneasy about the high levels. For this reason I have asked the Advertising Standards Authority to review the codes for gambling advertising to see whether change is needed. The outcome of the review could see significant changes in the way gambling is advertised in Britain, ensuring children and the vulnerable are better protected.

Finally, we want to see progress in supporting people who want to exclude themselves voluntarily from betting shops. Within the next six months we want to see a system developed that allows customers to exclude themselves from shops on a national basis.

I am serious about minimising problem gambling in British society. Our review continues and is due to report in the spring. We have not ruled out any measures and are considering what more we need to do to protect the most vulnerable and those at risk of problem gambling.

The gambling industry is an important part of our economy but growth cannot be at any cost and this is about finding the right balance. I call upon the sector to put social responsibility at the heart of its business and ensure growth comes from customers who are fully in control of their gambling.

This article is provided by A Lonely Road Blog.