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More action needed in this time of COVID crisis

Posted on 3 April 2020

This week, the UN compared the current COVID-19 crisis with World War Two. There is an equivalent to a war effort underway. Everyone wants to help, it seems. Young people helping their elderly neighbours with shopping, factories building respirators, restaurants supplying meals to NHS staff, virtual exercise classes, choirs and much much more. There is a deluge of advice[1] on staying well in social isolation, advocating exercise, sleep, eating well, avoid excesses, keep in touch with loved ones, practising meditation and mindfulness, watch fewer news bulletins, and being alert to scams.[2] For those most at risk, talking about risks is critical, being open about all our vulnerabilities, not just the obvious ones.

What efforts are we seeing in the world of gambling, amid growing concern that those most at risk of harm are now even more so? On March 22, the Dutch gambling regulator KSA, announced that it would increase fines on operators found using the COVID-19 pandemic to promote their products. Phrases like ‘Corona–free gambling’ were appearing on Dutch websites as enticements to gamble.[3]  The day before, the Latvian gambling regulator issued a statement saying that all online and land based gambling would be prohibited during the pandemic, as part of its strategy to safeguard its citizens.[4] In the UK, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm has called for a £50 daily spend limit across all operators in order to help people drawn to gambling online during the pandemic. They have also called for an end to gambling advertising and bonus offers and end to VIP accounts and greater data sharing.[5]

Meanwhile in lockdown GB, as the industry races to offer new gambling opportunities online, and accepting government help to keep its businesses afloat, the UK Betting and Gaming Council has published 10 pledges to ‘reinforce our commitment to ensure a safe customer experience.’ The reaction to this announcement has been mixed, and questions remain as to how these pledges are going to be measured, and whether they go far enough. The Gambling Commission has issued its guidance for customers on staying safe[6] and its warning to operators that breaches in safer gambling requirements during the COVID crisis will result in swift sanction.[7]

The current situation makes everyone vulnerable in some way. Being at home causes everyone to have periods of low mental health. We are all more susceptible to harm, whether this be from online abuse, criminal activity or gambling. People will be feeling invisible and irrelevant and the opportunity to win money and potentially tackle financial hardship could be too difficult to ignore

The way the industry responds to the Commission’s challenges and safeguard their current customer base and potential new customer base from harm is therefore even more crucial than before the pandemic. We won’t know the impact or indeed the harm caused by gambling at this time but what is important is we all start having those conversations now and start talking about gambling and its potential to cause harm. This will make it easier for people to seek advice and help before the problem becomes too big or the debt becomes an issue. With financial lenders easing their enforcement we could see people becoming more relaxed about debt so it is even more important to start that early dialogue.

In a crisis of this nature, no-one has a monopoly on answers. Positive stories will emerge from our collective determination to keep people safe. Action is especially critical for those most vulnerable, as those with lived experience of harm have been telling us for a long time. The time for collective action is now. We watch with interest to see how the UK gambling industry plays its part in this. In the meantime, we all play a part in keeping our friends, our neighbours and ourselves safe online as well as in the physical world.

The details of the National Problem Gambling Helpline can be found here

[1] Including NHS's Every Mind Matters website. from MIND, and from main NHS website

[2] Such as Friends Against Scams and National Trading Standards

[3] Dutch Gambling Regulator to Raise Fine Imposed on Covid-19 Ads, European Gaming, 23 March 2020

[4] Latvia’s coronavirus fight leaves online gambling ops in legal limbo, CalvinAyre, 24 March

[5] Letter to Nigel Huddleston, All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Ham, 3 April 2020

[6] Gambling Commission issues advice to consumers on how gambling companies should keep you safe while betting online – Gambling Commission website

[7] Covid-19 - A message from Neil McArthur to online gambling operators – Gambling Commission website