The UK’s gambling industry regulator is to consider putting limits on the amount consumers are allowed to bet online, a committee of MPs heard on Wednesday.
Neil McArthur, chief executive of the Gambling Commission, told a parliamentary committee that he would ensure that limits to online stakes would be considered, with a decision made within the next six months.
Shares in gambling companies plummeted in November, wiping nearly £1.2bn off the market value of the sector’s major players, after MPs called for a £2-per-bet limit to online slot games to bring them in line with the real-life machines found in high street betting shops. MPs described the measure as a way to combat the “public health crisis” of gambling addiction in the UK.
“A review of stake limits online has been clearly recommended by the all-party parliamentary group and is long overdue. I am very pleased that the Gambling Commission has finally seen sense on this,” said Carolyn Harris, chair of the parliamentary committee on gambling-related harm.
“Online slot content games should be reduced to £2 a spin in line with the rules in betting shops. The Gambling Commission must stop being reactive and take action to protect the vulnerable from harm in line with their licensing objectives,” she added.
The UK gambling industry has faced a swath of regulation in the past year as measures such as stricter age-verification checks and higher taxation have come into force.
In April last year, the stake permitted on high-speed electronic slot machines, known as fixed odds betting terminals and dubbed the “crack cocaine” of gambling, was cut from £100 to £2.
Many fear that a review of the current gambling legislation, promised by the Conservative government in its election manifesto, could bring in similarly stringent regulation online, putting the UK industry into a structural decline.
But campaigners say that such a move is long overdue and that the UK’s gambling legislation is not fit for the digital age.
“It makes no sense that stake limits for physical machines are enshrined in law, yet there is no equivalent for online gambling,” said James Noyes, former aide to ex-deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, advising on the Gambling Act review. “Just as there are fixed categories of machine in casinos and arcades, we need to see the same introduced online.”
Brigid Simmons, chair of the Betting and Gaming Council, which represents more than 90 per cent of UK gambling companies, said that consideration of online stakes was expected as part of the government’s review.
But, she added, “we need to have an online betting gaming industry in this country which is best-in-class but also competitive in a world where, if you are not careful, you could drive people into the black market, which we don’t want to do.”
A recent PwC report funded by the gambling industry found that the unregulated market in the UK accounted for around £1.4bn in turnover and that 200,000 people had used illegal gambling sites in the past year.
The Gambling Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.