Dayna Rodrigues

Trainee Solicitor

DATE PUBLISHED: 02 Dec 2021 LAST UPDATED: 06 Jul 2022

Gambling harms within an ever-developing betting industry

Gambling for many is a behavioural addiction which can unfortunately lead to financial hardship, relationship breakdowns and a degradation of health. Government led research into gambling related harms indicates that those most severely affected by someone else’s gambling are usually women and immediate family members. Whilst stereotypically associated with the famous casinos of Las Vegas, the origins of gambling stretch much further back to approximately the Paleolithic period. Over the course of thousands of years, gambling has developed from games involving bones or tiles, to cards, slots and mobile gambling.

With the advance of technology, there is far greater access to gambling across multiple formats. According to the Gambling Commission, access to online gambling via a mobile phone is the most popular of means and the majority of online gambling occurs at home. Online gambling accounts for approximately 40% of the gambling industry generating a gross yield of £5.7 billion. A Public Health England study concluded that men are far more likely than women to participate in online gambling and that overall participation in online gambling, exclusive of the National Lottery, saw a steady increase between 2012 and 2018. Gambling is even present in gaming, exposing people as young as 11 years old to activities which normalise gambling. The study suggests that enjoyment of certain games can be minimised unless players participate in gambling based interactions such as purchasing loot boxes.

Since the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005, which established the Gambling Commission, licensed betting operators ought to operate in accordance with their licensing objectives which were implemented, amongst other aims, to protect vulnerable persons and young children from gambling related harm or exploitation.

Self-help mechanisms such as time-outs, spending caps and self-exclusions are often available for gamblers to try and combat their addiction. But these tools are not necessarily a failsafe. Many gamblers find their betting activity rewarded with frequent incentives such as increased bonuses or may even still find ways to access their betting account, or open new accounts, despite a previous self-exclusion.

Gambling addiction arguably ought to be regarded as a public health issue. Public Health England recently published the first evidence based review of harms associated with gambling in England. The review sheds light on the clear connections between harmful gambling and increased alcohol consumption, suicidal ideation and other mental health difficulties.  It identifies that those who experience gambling addiction are also more likely to take part in at least 7 or more different gambling activities, which could be a combination of sports betting, casino, online slots and betting exchanges as just a few examples. The study also identifies that men are 4.2 times more likely to be gambling at increased levels of risk than women. According to data from 2018, whilst 0.5% of the population are considered to be suffering from problem gambling, 3.8% of the population are at risk. An overview of the review and some of its key findings is accessible here.

Developments in the gambling industry only present additional untested regulatory concerns. Crypto-gambling for example has seen rising interest from stakeholders globally. Most notably Stake.com, which permits deposits and withdrawals of cryptocurrencies, is set to enter the UK gambling industry within the near future. The anonymity associated with cryptocurrency can, for example, present source of funds and anti-money laundering concerns which in turn brings into question whether a betting operator can accept such a source of funds and still operate in compliance with its licensing conditions.

Unlicensed betting sites are also accessible within the UK. For example, it was identified recently that Sorare.com is accessible by consumers within Great Britain and as such any activity on this website is not regulated by the Gambling Commission at present.

Whilst the government continues to support research into the prevention of gambling related harms in the interests of public health, such as the e-Delphi consensus study, it is important that gamblers are aware of whether their betting operator is licensed to operate within the UK and are conscious of whether their operator is satisfying their licensing conditions, especially in the face of the rapidly developing gambling industry.

Our solicitors at Ellis Jones welcome the introduction of measures which many betting operators are now employing in order to reduce the risk of gambling related harms, such as the introduction of mandatory deposit limits, and increased responsible gambling interactions and source of funds checks. It is clear however that there is still much more that needs to be done in order to minimise the risk of harm, including bringing about key updates to the relevant legislation in what is an ever-developing landscape.

If you have experienced struggles with your gambling, have suffered financial loss as a result and feel that your betting operator should have done more to protect you, please get in touch with our Banking and Finance Litigation Team here at Ellis Jones at bettingclaim@ellisjones.co.uk. We would also recommend that anyone who may be suffering from gambling related harm seeks independent medical and addiction specialist assistance and considers implementing some of the various tools available to reduce such harm. Details of some of these can be found here.

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