UK Deputy Labour Leader Calls Gambling a “Public Health Crisis”

  • Deputy Labour leader calls for an "overhaul" of gambling licenses
  • Argues that more needs to be done to increase market fairness and a reduction in harm
  • Those who can't show steps to limit gambling harm should have their licenses removed
Despondent gambler at slot machine
UK deputy Labour leader calls for more to be done to solve gambling-related issues.

“Public health crisis”

The deputy leader of the Labour party has said that gambling operators should have to reapply for their licenses for the “privilege” of operating in the UK.

Tom Watson, who is also MP for West Bromwich East and shadow secretary of state for the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, highlighted his views in parliament’s online magazine, The House.

He wrote that Britain’s gambling epidemic had become a “public health crisis,” and that much of the harm related to gambling can be seen with high stakes at fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). As a result of gambling, bettors were finding themselves in debt or were battling thoughts of suicide, he said.

Even though he’s not calling for a gambling ban, Watson does think more needs to be done to mitigate the issue.

I want to see fairness in the market, consistency in legislation, and a reduction of harm, he said. Instead, I see the opposite. This is particularly true when it comes to online gambling.

For Watson, his greatest concern lies with what are known as white labels. As he notes, these are partnerships with gambling firms that make it possible for them to operate in the UK without actually having a license to do so. One of these white labels is SportPesa, a Kenya-based company. It’s able to function in the UK simply because it has partnered with a licensee organization based on the Isle of Man.

Yet, as the deputy Labour leader points out, while these white label firms are operating in the UK, they aren’t doing anything to help solve the issue of problem gambling. In fact, according to Watson, white labels donated only £50 ($62) last year to GambleAware, a UK charity aimed at tackling gambling-related harm.

Arguing that a UK gambling license should mean credibility and trust, Watson is calling for an overhaul in how the system currently works.

“It should not be seen as a platform for overseas operators to use the reputation of British sport as a marketing tool for their own domestic audience, whereby the benefits of the UK market are enjoyed, but nothing is given back to address the harm that is caused,” he added.

In order to achieve this, Watson believes that licensed operators should need to reapply for the “privilege of operating in the British market.” However, if they fail to demonstrate the measures they have in place to prevent gambling-related harm, then, Watson notes, they should face a fine and the removal of their license.

Meeting in the middle

The topic of betting-related harm is a contentious subject. In many jurisdictions, steps are being taken to help solve the problem; however, it’s not something that will be fixed overnight.

Unfortunately, while some measures enhance responsible betting, more still needs to be done. This can only be achieved when governments and gambling operators are able to come together to work on solving the problem.