Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen has advised the Government not to delay the introduction of a compulsory levy on the gambling industry – warning urgent action is needed to protect those already in the grip of addiction.
The County Durham and Darlington Police and Crime Commissioner, who is Joint Lead for Addictions and Substance Misuse on behalf of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), has rigorously campaigned for improved betting rules to protect problem gamblers and safeguard children from being drawn into gambling addiction.
She has also spearheaded sweeping reforms locally in Durham which led to the Constabulary recently becoming the first force in the country to sign up to the Gambling Charter, setting out its commitment to work collaboratively to tackle gambling harm in the workplace and the wider community.
The Government has now published its long-awaited White Paper on the issue, pledging major reform of gambling laws to protect vulnerable users in the digital age. The proposals include a mandatory levy on betting firms to pay for the treatment of addiction, new player protection checks and stake limits for online slots.
The review considered evidence from families impacted by gambling harm and the gamblers themselves, many of whom had faced catastrophic financial losses and other associated problems through their addictions.
Commissioner Allen said: “I have pushed for tougher regulation of the industry for a long time to hold the sector to account for the consequences of gambling harm, especially where crime is concerned. I am delighted that the government has listened to the evidence I have presented along with my colleagues nationally. These changes will have a significant impact in disadvantaged and deprived communities in the North of England, and elsewhere across the UK, where many of these betting shops are concentrated.
“As the review addresses, this is not about removing the freedom of adults who enjoy gambling in a safe and proportionate way. This is about increasing the support mechanisms and protections for those at risk and making the industry culpable when such safety systems fail.
“The proposed statutory levy on the industry to fund prevention, support and treatment for problem gamblers is a vital step forward and I am pleased with the recognition given to the importance of affordability checks and the need to address irresponsible use of ‘free bet’ and other promotions –these are long overdue. But as welcome as these proposals are, I am concerned that any delays to implementation will have serious consequences for those already living in the grip of addiction who require help now. With at least one suicide every day being attributable to gambling harm, it’s imperative we act quickly.
Neither do the changes go far enough as we see our young people being drawn into gambling through “loot boxes” on gaming apps and consoles. We need to protect our children before they get addicted to these ‘spend to progress’ methods.
“We have been shocked to hear of the many cases where online gambling has drawn people into serious criminality, stealing or defrauding in order to fund their addictive betting. It is clear problem gambling must be treated with the same urgency as alcohol and drug addiction and I will continue to push for these reforms to be developed and implemented at the earliest opportunity.”
With the Commissioner’s support, Durham Constabulary has implemented a range of new policies including a revised Unmanageable Debt policy to ensure gambling harm is central to the force’s approach to staff health and wellbeing.
New advice leaflets and guidance signposting to local help services have been created and health champions have received full-day training to identify and support those impacted by gambling harm – improvements that formed part of the criteria to gain Gambling Charter status.
Additionally, the force’s Diversion and Rehabilitation Team (DART), who form part of the force’s Offender Management Unit and deal with all offenders who are subject of an out of court disposal outcome for their offending, have received training alongside custody staff to help individuals access the help they need to tackle gambling addiction.
College bars at Durham University have been praised by PCC for meeting strict standards of safety as part of a national accreditation scheme.
Four outstanding Community Peer Mentor volunteers have been invited to Royal celebration events to mark King Charles III’s Coronation.
PCC has praised the swift roll-out of a free security scheme helping former victims of crime and their neighbours to feel safer in their homes.