Select Committee hearings tend to be long, drawn out affairs with a lot of chaff – MPs desperate to catch out the interviewee/witness, and the witness with their guard up desperate not to make that crucial slip. However, occasionally the guard slips and there is a nugget of insightful comment or an idea on what the witness actually believes. Today’s 150 minute CMS Committee lived up to this, so here’s a few highlights we picked up at to the current state of play with the Minister and the Select Committee.
Starting first with the Gambling Commission’s Andrew Rhodes and Tim Miller. When questioned about the Black Market, he claimed once again that the risk had been overstated and there were many people claiming to know about it, but the GC were not being presented with evidence. This is slightly odd, given he has acknowledged there were black market online casinos who were targeting self-excluded clients. At a point when more and more data sharing is being planned, one has to wonder where these black market casinos are getting the details of self-excluded clients, although unfortunately it did not occur to the members of the committee to follow up on this. Comically one of the MPs asked Rhodes how the GC can control the use of VPNs, I’ll leave that hanging there for you to roll your eyes at.
The next interesting point came with financial risk checks. The GC whilst continuing to use the 3% of accounts impacted figure (but not saying or being asked about the precise number being in the order of a million accounts) stated that these are not pass or fail checks. Like affordability, they throw a hand grenade in the industry, set no firm rules and leave it to firms’ digression. The issue of data was then raised, and the GC confirmed that any data collected cannot be used for commercial purposes. The point about how you govern this, and again how the black market got details of self-excluded customers was, disappointingly not raised by the committee.
Matters got slightly more extraordinary at this point when Kevin Brennan (by the far most informed and incisive member of the committee) asked further questions on what types of data could be used other than credit reference agencies. Tim Miller appeared slightly flustered at this and started suggesting that postcode data could be used to dictate checks (i.e from deprived areas), Rhodes spotted how this could be interpreted and quickly tried to butt in, however it would appear your ability to bet could literally be a postcode lottery. The question of job titles also came up with Brennan raising the possibility that people might lie and say they are an astronaut. The GC had apparently not factored this in.
Rhodes later went on to say that the debate around gambling, which he described as a niche activity (40% of the population) was of a poor quality.
We then move onto the Minister Stuart Andrew and his DCMS Director. His first question was ‘is gambling a public health issue?’, to which he responded that ‘gambling harm is’. He stated the UK was behind the curve on gambling research which the mandatory levy would help with. Heather Wardle’s eyes must have lit up at that point. He did admit that the Government does not have definitive information on suicide through gambling harm and the data used by the Harms Groups was questioned by Brennan again with the DCMS director quoting the issues with the Swedish model that made up the figures. Brennan again asked if the DCMS had done an impact assessment on the White Paper to which the answer after much spluttering was no. He was staggered that it hadn’t been (we are as well, Kevin). The Minister did say the financial checks scheme would be piloted though, so there is hope that if it goes ahead, it can be got rid of when it inevitably fails on its objectives.
There were warm words on racing not being impacted, but the Minister bluffed out any points on this talking about the levy. Racing getting a higher percentage of half of much money coming through doesn’t sound sustainable though. There was also another curious moment when the Chair of the committee suggested having regular gamblers on the lived experience panel, the response of the Minister was one of ‘that’s an idea, I’d never thought of that.’ Strange as the previous Minister did want to speak to regular gamblers – obviously the officials weren’t keen on the idea as they failed to see through the idea with the new Minster.
Only other highlights worthy of note was the amiable Giles Watling commenting that ‘bookmakers wouldn’t look to exploit their customers, would they?’. The sort of naivety you’d only have after being in the Priesthood (you need to a viewer of 80s sitcom Bread to get that reference). Paul Blomfield was very anxious that third party organisations who don’t want to take money directly from the industry will continue to get money indirectly from the industry, and Rupa Huq doesn’t like adverts and seemed to think we should be noting a study from Canada that suggests betting 4 times a week is enough.
Overall, there is simply no quantifiable metrics to measure success – £40 million spent on research without ascertaining the value, and no full impact assessment for the consequences of what is a major policy intervention.
These people do love to tell us what they think we should do, don’t they?