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Gambling levels may have plummeted, but we get the concerns and are stepping up action on safer gambling
2nd April, 11:20With the UK largely in lockdown, millions of us are struggling to comprehend the unfolding situation and are feeling cut-off and anxious about the future. We are, as the Prime Minister has said, facing the biggest crisis this country has known for decades.
In this time of national emergency, with many of us self-isolating and experiencing social distancing, away from our friends and family, we need to come together as a country and watch out and look after each other. And as CEO of the new betting and gaming standards body, the BGC, I know that this also applies to our members too.
The BGC covers betting shops, online betting and gaming, plus casinos. It was formed in order to bring the industry together to help raise standards and drive best practice.
That work has never been more important than in this time of national crisis.
First of all, it's important to say that we know that levels of gambling have plummeted in recent days. This is not just because of the closures of betting shops and casinos, but because of the lack of sporting fixtures. Some people don't understand just how fundamental sport is to betting, with millions of people enjoying a flutter on the horses or football, and sports betting plays a major part of online betting too.
The idea that the COVID crisis will lead to a boom in betting is just plain wrong. I understand why the prohibitionists and anti-gambling campaigners want to give that impression, but the reality is that operators have been posting warnings to the market as revenues slide dramatically. Talking to many companies, some expect to see an increase in online activity - unsurprisingly given it's the only place now where you can place a bet - but they say they are not seeing dramatic increases in online and certainly nothing that could remotely make up the overall decline in gambling.
But although I understand that, equally I understand the worries that people have. So notwithstanding the fact that gambling levels are falling during the COVID crisis, I am determined that the regulated industry's commitment to safer gambling is being stepped up at this time.
It is important to our members that we help our customers stay in control of their betting and gaming during these troubled times.
That's why in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BGC members have developed a new action plan with ten pledges that will govern their activity and better help customers throughout this crisis.
This action plan is comprehensive and, crucially, it is also compulsory for all members of the BGC. As a body, we represent around 90 per cent of the UK betting and gaming industry (excluding lotteries).
Our ten pledge action plan also follows calls from Neil McArthur at the Gambling Commission, as well as from DCMS Minister Nigel Huddleston, for the industry to demonstrate heightened consumer protection and responsible marketing. This has been heard loud and clear by our members and the ten pledge action plan is a sign that we have that determination.
Britain is at its best when we come together. We will come through this crisis, but we all have a role to play. I am determined that our industry plays its full part in the Government's 'National Effort' - whether that's in helping with volunteers or resources or facilities. But it also means us helping to protect people most at risk in these extraordinarily difficult and challenging times. I am determined that we do just that.