As concerns grow over the rising number of problem gamblers, the UK government is considering tightening up online gambling laws and the way foreign companies advertise.
In a move spurred by worrying reports of the escalation in problem gambling numbers especially amongst the young, Jeremy Hunt, the government’s Culture Secretary is laying plans to prevent foreign based online gambling companies from advertising in the UK. To add to the concerns over the rise in young gamblers, he is also taking under consideration plans to prevent credit cards from being used to fund online gambling in an attempt to halt the rise in people spending money the do not have on gambling over the Internet.
The report published in the Daily Mail newspaper highlights the government’s growing concern that the gambling bill introduced in 2005 is not effective enough in protecting the vulnerable from aggressive gambling advertising which, since the relaxation of the laws has been allowed to be shown on television. The problem is not so much in gambling companies that are based and licensed in the UK, as they are bound by stricter codes of conduct. But companies based offshore that are allowed to offer their services and promote themselves in Britain are not so strictly regulated and it is these that the government wants to target in a tightening up of the rules.
Some experts believe that over a million children have become addicted to Internet gambling after the laws were relaxed to allow TV advertising. Under the rules of the Gambling Act, companies holding a licence that permits them to offer online gaming services in Britain must make stringent checks to ensure children are prevented from playing games that are highly addictive. However, the Gambling Commission requires that only those operators that have their key equipment located within British borders be licensed. A gaping loophole in that law has meant that operators based in other European countries as well as those on what is known as the “white list” may advertise in the UK and not be subject to the regulations. Countries on the white list include the Isle of Man, Alderney, Tasmania and Antigua.
Consumers in the UK spend around £2.5billion annually on gambling over the Internet or via the telephone. Gambling Commission licensed operators earn under a quarter of that figure. An overhaul of the law is being considered so that all telephone and Internet gambling is regulated in the UK. That would mean all gambling companies that operate in the British market would be obliged to be holders of a Gambling Commission issued licence while being subject to the law.