Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) CEO Michael Dugher has emphasised that BGC members are rolling out new measures to reduce any concerns that gambling ‘prohibitionists’ may have during the ongoing pandemic.
Writing on PoliticsHome, Dugher recognised that there were concerns over an increase in gambling levels during the lock down, but reiterated that the BGC members had taken a series of measures which would reassure public and MP concerns.
He wrote: “From the very start of the current lockdown, I knew that understandably there would be genuine concerns that isolation, boredom and financial anxiety might lead to an increase in gambling.
“Last week’s announcement from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) that we were introducing a voluntary ban on advertising gaming products on TV and radio was just the latest in a series of measures taken to reassure the public and further improve safer gambling at this time.”
A 10-pledge strategy was unveiled back in March to help protect those most at risk of gambling-related harms during the lock down. Dugher reiterated that due to the actions that the BGC has taken, ‘fears are unfounded and standards are on the up’.
He continued: “As DCMS Minister Nigel Huddleston put it well a few days ago: ‘We must work together to protect the most vulnerable from gambling harm. I appreciate the moves by the gambling sector to recognise the heightened risks of problem gambling during the coronavirus lock down’.
“From day one, members of the BGC substantially increased safer gambling messages across all our platforms and introduced a 10-pledge action plan back in March. This sets out a series of measures such as heightened monitoring of accounts, identifying changes to patterns of play and spend, as well as increasing interventions to restrict or block accounts where the customer might be at risk.”
To further alleviate fears, Dugher emphasised that BGC members are continuing to introduce new measures to restrict online advertising, including the introduction of ‘a 25+ age filter for all advertising, trial de-targeting technology and create an industry-wide list for suppressing advertising around certain subjects’.
He revealed that online gambling revenue has fallen by 30%, while total gambling revenue has taken a 60% hit.
Dugher also picked out one MPs criticism of gambling advertising, which drew comparisons between betting and heroin: “I appreciate that working from home is driving us all a little stir crazy at the moment, but one prominent anti-gambling MP recently even said it was right to ban all advertising of gambling because “you wouldn’t advertise heroin on TV”.
“I’m all for engaging with the industry’s critics, but in all seriousness comparing things like the National Lottery or online bingo, that still advertise on the telly, with heroin is just plain daft.
Last week, Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Problem Gambling Harm, criticised BGC’s protective handling of betting leadership.
Speaking to industry delegates at the SBC Digital Summit, Harris criticised the BGC for ‘putting up walls’, blocking dialogue between MPs and betting leaders on the subject matter of problem gambling.
Dugher stands by the council’s action plans and progress, stating “The BGC and its members take their responsibilities seriously. Millions of people like the occasional flutter – 46 per cent of the adult population place a bet or gamble each month. The overwhelming majority enjoy a bet safely. Together our members directly employ over 70,000 people throughout the whole of the UK and contribute over £3 billion in tax each year.”
He concluded: “The BGC wants all customers to enjoy our products safely and responsibly, with help available for those who need it, when they need it. The work we are doing to help the tiny minority of gamblers who, as with alcohol or many other things, get into trouble is being improved all the time.
“At the start of the covid-19 crisis, anti-gambling hardliners warned that there would be a huge increase in gambling, that operators would “cash in on covid” and that marketing and advertising would be stepped up to “groom” new customers to online betting. None of this is true.
“Of course I expect prohibitionists to keep shifting the goalposts and to keep using covid as their opportunity to kick the industry. But thanks to the action we have taken, standards are actually on the up and fears have proven unfounded.”