Regular gamblers up the stakes during UK lockdown | Society

Regular gamblers have stepped up their betting during lockdown, prompting a call from the industry regulator for firms to introduce new measures to protect vulnerable people.

The Gambling Commission found that, overall, gambling is down due to the absence of sporting events such as football, which typically attracts a high volume of occasional bettors.

But data from the polling company YouGov found that nearly two-thirds of “engaged” gamblers – those who spend on three or more betting products a month – have increased the time or money they spend.

Data collected from gambling firms themselves shows that while the number of sports bets has fallen by 31%, online slot machines are up 25%, poker has jumped by 38% and betting on virtual sports has soared by 40%.

The number of gambling sessions that last for more than an hour has also increased, by 23% year on year to 1.9m in March.

The regulator published the evidence amid concern among MPs and campaigners about the industry’s commitment to protecting vulnerable people, including by curbing advertising.

The commission said companies should now take further steps to protect people.

These include ceasing to offer bonuses to customers displaying indicators of gambling-related harm and a requirement that firms interact with people who play for longer than an hour to ensure they are not in distress.

The guidelines also say gambling firms should prevent reverse withdrawals, which is where a customer wins money, opts to withdraw it into their bank account, but then cancels the transaction and ploughs it straight back into another wager.

Reverse withdrawals are a controversial feature of online gambling and are cited by the commission as indicating that someone may not be in control of their betting.

Tighter player protection measures such as these could become a permanent fixture, depending on the outcome of a review, which the commission is bringing forward.

The sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, said: “It is vital that people are protected from the threat of gambling-related harm and I welcome these latest steps from the Gambling Commission.

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will not hesitate to take further action if required.”

“Operators must use the data they hold to protect their customers and now, more than ever, it’s vital that online operators really know their customers by monitoring how long they are playing for and understanding how financial uncertainty is impacting them and what they can afford to gamble with,” said the commission’s chief executive, Neil McArthur.

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“We are monitoring online operators closely and if we see irresponsible behaviour we will step in immediately, suspending licences if we need to.”

Under the guidelines, operators should also review the trigger points at which they carry out problem-gambling checks on new customers, whose typical patterns of play are not yet well understood.

Where there is suspicion of a problem, the customer should be blocked pending affordability checks to ensure they are gambling within their means.

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