What happened to freedom of choice?

Peter Hannibal, chief executive of the cross industry strategic body the Gambling Business Group, argues that when it comes to the regulation of gaming we are losing our sense of proportionality

When commentators start quoting acts of Parliament the natural response for many people – myself included – is to switch off, glaze over and move on. But what I am about to draw your attention to is important, because it gets to the very heart of what’s making the regulation of our industry so unpalatable and so unreasonable.

Section 22 of the Gambling Act 2005 expresses the Gambling Commission’s duties in exercising their functions, which, and I quote are: “In exercising its functions under this Act the Commission shall aim (a) to pursue, and whatever appropriate to have regard to, the licensing objectives, and (b) to permit gambling, in so far as the Commission thinks it reasonably consistent with pursuit of the licensing objectives.

For many in the industry it is this part ‘so far as the Commission thinks it reasonably consistent with……’ which is so nebulous and open to (mis)interpretation.

When the 2005 Gambling Act states the Government must ‘aim to permit Gambling’, why does the direction of travel that is being navigated in gambling regulation require there to be ‘proof of no increase in harm’ before new products can be introduced, as well as proof of ‘affordability’? How can you prove a negative when there is no existence of harm in the first place?

Inherent in this ‘magic mushroom logic’ is the implied assumption that everyone is vulnerable to gambling related harms unless a due diligence (KYC) check proves otherwise. What other industry, sector or product has to carry out this level of research and engagement before they can commence with any form of product development or diversification which is the lifeblood of any business, especially one involved in the delivery of age qualified entertainment?

When the news headlines are dominated by discussions about democracy – both here in the UK and numerous countries throughout the world – we should ask what’s happening to the public’s ability and right to choose to engage in legal and legitimate activities when they want? After all, they can get in a car and drive it whenever and to wherever they want. They can be trusted to eat high calorie foods as often as they want. They can also be trusted to consume alcohol without entering a qualification process – other than proof of age. They can purchase as many handbags or watches as satisfies their need, regardless of the level of debt they may or may not be running up. They can join the armed forces, take solemn marriage vows and commit to spend their lives together – they can even be 100% responsible for the upbringing of another human being with no meaningful checks or skills.

But what they can’t do is they can’t be trusted to gamble of their own volition unless they/we can prove to the regulator that they are not vulnerable to harm.

The reality check here is that contrary to what the Commission might want everyone to believe, gambling actually is a legitimate, pleasurable and at many times a social pastime enjoyed by the vast majority of the general public in one way or another. The human brain can have a weakness for anything it finds pleasurable. But does this mean that access to everything we find pleasurable has to be withheld until we can prove that we are not vulnerable to possible harm arising from it? What a dystopian world this would be.

We are losing our sense of proportionality with the regulation of gaming.

There is a small minority of the population that needs to be protected, as they do in all of the above examples and many hundreds more.

So why are we allowing gambling to be stereotyped as a universally and unequivocally toxic industry that every grown-up in the room needs to be protected from?. This approach is from the same school of thinking that would ban horse riding, rugby and boxing and advocate that we all live in bungalows because, after all, don’t you realise how many people die at home from falling down the stairs?

For more information on the work of the Gambling Business Group, contact peter@gamblingbusinessgroup.co.uk