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Regulator head warns of growing public concern over sector

Gambling Commission chief Sarah Harrison said evidence was being published now to be "transparent"
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Gambling Commission chief executive Sarah Harrison has warned the gambling industry that public concern about the sector is growing and tolerance falling.

In a speech to the World Regulatory Briefing at the Ice show in London, Harrison said operators need to build consumer trust and confidence.

She said the government review of gambling which includes gaming machine stakes and prizes, as well as gambling advertising, had "the potential to create a platform on which to build a direction of travel for the future".

However, she said public attitudes towards gambling had hardened since the last review in 2013.

Harrison said: "Research undertaken by the commission in 2016 into attitudes towards gambling found that 80 per cent of those surveyed thought there were too many opportunities for gambling nowadays; 62 per cent thought that gambling was dangerous for family life; 17 per cent thought gambling should be banned altogether; 33 per cent thought most people who gambled did so sensibly, while 14 per cent thought on balance gambling was good for society.

"While direct comparisons are difficult to make due to differing methodologies, when compared to the previous British Gambling Prevalence Survey in 2010, this research shows changing attitudes, with concerns increasing and tolerance decreasing."

Harrison said the commission was developing its advice on the gambling review and would soon publish part of its evidence base with data covering 20 billion plays on betting shop gaming machines over the last two years.  

The commission is also working with the Competition and Markets Authority over concerns about terms and conditions in online gambling.

She said: "Despite our clear warnings to industry operators, I continue to have grave concerns about terms which appear to bamboozle rather than help customers make informed choices. We look to this joint work to set a new benchmark for fairness and transparency."

Harrison also covered the commission's work with the Advertising Standards Authority and the Information Commissioner’s Office, telling the audience the gambling sector was one of the worst offenders when it came to spam marketing via text message, often through affiliates.

She added: "My message to operators is there's no 'fudge' around this, no equivocation - the affiliates who promote your brand and drive business to your websites are your responsibility, and it's you who are accountable."

Harrison said there was a changing relationship between consumers and business. She said: "Gambling operators need to focus now on how they should adapt, improve and build consumer trust and confidence to avoid the aftershocks and retain sustainable long-term businesses.

"We'll work as the GB regulator, and with our European and international regulator partners, do all we can within our powers to put consumer interests first to create regulation which can give confidence and, in turn, foster a healthy gambling market."

Gambling operators need to focus now on how they should adapt, improve and build consumer trust and confidence to avoid the aftershocks and retain sustainable long-term businesses
E.W. Terms