The UK’s gambling regulator, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) is struggling to adequately offer protection for problem gamblers, according to a leading Whitehall body.
The National Audit Office (NAO) say that the UKGC doesn’t have the resources or the powers it needs to properly regulate what they describe as a fast evolving sector.
According to the NAO, licensed gambling in the UK has risen by 57% in the last ten years, which has led to a yield of £11.3 billion-a-year for betting companies. The UKGC’s own figures put the number of problem gamblers at 395,000, including as many as 55,000 children, and another 1.8 million UK citizens were considered in the ‘at risk’ category.
The NAO say that the cost of the problem associated with gambling addiction, including mental health, relationship breakdowns, crime and financial losses could work out at £1.16 billion to the public purse every year. Yet, the NAO highlight the fact that the UKGC has a budget of just £19 million, which is funded by UK gambling operators. It has a small staff and relies on local council officials to carry out inspections. But in the year 2018/19, 119 local authorities failed to carry out any checks on gambling premises, and 60 had not conducted inspections for three years.
The NAO also said that the UK government did not have the same amount of evidence that it had amassed for other public health issues when it came to gambling. Speaking about the issue, the head of the NAO, Gareth Davies, said that the UKGC remains a small regulator in an industry that is changing rapidly and more needs to be done in this area:
“While the commission has made improvements, gambling regulation lags behind the industry. The commission and Government need to work together to ensure that regulation keeps pace with the risk to gamblers.”