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Glenrothes & Central Fife MP Peter Grant has accused UK Government of failing to protect the almost 400,000 people in the UK who have a problem with gambling.

Mr Grant was speaking after parliament’s Public Accounts Committee published a hard-hitting report in which the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and the Gambling Commission it oversees came in for severe criticism.

Mr Grant said: “There are nearly 400,000 people in the UK for whom gambling has stopped being an enjoyable pastime and has become something that threatens to take over their lives. A further 1.8 million people are at risk of falling into the same trap. Shockingly, around 50,000 of these problem gamblers are children who cannot legally gamble or buy Lottery tickets. Behind these numbers lie stories of appalling debt problems, families breaking up, people turning to crime and in some cases, tragically, people taking their own lives.

“The businesses who make massive profits out of gambling have a responsibility but they need to be effectively regulated and both the UK Government and the Gambling Commission are failing in that responsibility. Members of the cross-party Public Accounts Committee were struck by the complacency being shown by representatives of the relevant Government department and by the Government’s failure to recognise that problem gambling has been allowed to become a serious public health problem.”

The report says the Gambling Commission is not proactively influencing gambling operators to improve protections, and consistently lags behind moves in the gambling industry. The Glenrothes and Central Fife MP says that where gambling operators fail to act responsibly, consumers do not have the same rights to redress as in other sectors.

The Public Accounts Committee says the Department and Commission together have “failed to adequately protect consumers” at a time of considerable change in the sector, as gambling increasingly moves online and new games become popular. Some companies introduced a voluntary and temporary ban on gambling ads during lockdown but it has now been lifted.

Mr Grant said: “More than a month into lockdown the main gambling businesses agreed to stop advertising on TV. By coincidence they announced this on the very day the Public Accounts Committee was to question Government and Gambling Commission officials about support for problem gamblers, then two months later they started advertising again.

“What came out in evidence to the Committee is a picture of a toothless regulator that doesn’t really seem too bothered about being toothless. Yes, there’s a serious issue about the Gambling Commission’s funding – for every £100 gross profit the gambling industry makes from its customers, the Commission that’s supposed to regulate them gets 18 pence. But just giving them more money won’t solve the problem. The Commission needs a radical overhaul: it must be quicker at responding to problems, it must update company licence conditions to protect vulnerable consumers and it must greatly strengthen consumers’ rights to redress when it fails.

“The issue of gambling harm is not high up enough the Government’s agenda. The review of the Gambling Act is long overdue and an opportunity to see a step change in how problem gambling is treated. The Department must not keep dragging its feet, we need to see urgent moves on the badly needed wider overhaul of the system.”

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