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UK Gambling Restrictions: Proposed changes to gambling limits are the wrong approach to a very real problem

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, supported by a proposal from the UK Gambling Commission, announced plans on October 31, 2017 to cut the maximum bet that can be made at B2 gaming machines, often known as fixed-odds betting terminals by more than half, from its current level of £100 ($131) to a level around £20-30 ($26-$39). At present a consumer could theoretically bet – and lose – up to £18,000 ($23,600) in one hour on a B2 machine. The government is also considering an increase in the frequency at which consumers can place bets, which currently sits at 20 seconds.

Despite rejecting a plea by 93 councils in 2015 to reduce this upper limit, the government now seems to be in favor of the plan. The most likely reason for this reversal of opinions is likely the growth of problem gamblers in the UK as well as a softening of the Conservative Party’s stance on government intervention in markets. Some of the Conservatives’ key manifesto pledges in the 2017 election were focused on improving employee representation and reducing pay discrepancies in the boardrooms of large businesses. For a party traditionally strongly opposed to government intervention in private markets this is an interesting approach and further action in a similar vein will likely improve their standing with young people, who voted overwhelmingly against the Conservatives at the election and were the reason for the hung parliament that followed.

It is also unfortunate that the government feels the need to make this move now. Pressure on government spending is higher than ever and gambling brings in a considerable amount of tax revenue. Placing greater pressure on the major players will reduce profits and therefore tax revenue at a time where the Chancellor is in desperate need of ways to increase his disposable income.

The approach, while well-intended, is wrong. Rather than focusing on the actions of grown and consenting adults the government should look into the increasing prevalence of online advertising coming from the gambling industry which is rapidly increasing its penetration rate among young children. The Gambling Commission found in 2016 that over half of children aged 11-15 had seen a gambling advert on social media and the wider web while one in seven had engaged in gambling activity in the last week. With growing numbers of younger children with increased access to the internet, with their usage largely unmonitored, the government should instead look to minimize the impact that these companies can have on the potential problem gamblers of the future and should generally look to educate, rather than punish, those who choose to engage with the industry.