The Gamblers Consumer Forum have written to Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew to highlight concerns over the open letter from the Gambling Commission to the Racing Post. As we wrote to the GC, we have concerns over the adherence to the Nolan Principles of standards in public life, together with the use of statistics by the Commission. The letter is reproduced below:
Dear Mr Andrew
The Gamblers Consumer Forum would like to call your attention to serious concerns with an open letter from the Gambling Commission to the Racing Post, published on 19th September. In the letter, the Commission takes exception to the Racing Post’s coverage of its imposition on gamblers of financial risk checks – and the damage that this is causing (and will cause) to the horse racing industry. We are somewhat bewildered that the Gambling Commission would choose to publicly target and vilify the very consumers they purport to represent in this manner.
The open letter is, in our view, unprecedented and appears to place the Commission in contravention of both the Regulators’ Code and the Nolan Principles on Public Life. The Racing Post has in recent weeks published the accounts of racehorse owners being asked for personal financial information and having absurdly low limits placed on their accounts relative to their wealth; and it is these reports that the Commission appears to object to.
Far from being unbalanced, the accounts published in the Racing Post represent entirely legitimate concerns which are shared by many in racing. The Commission’s claim to be running a “genuine consultation” is undermined by its attempt to suppress views that run counter to its own (and possibly to justify its marginalisation of around 2,000 responses already received in response to the consultation). As the Editor of the Racing Post has observed, the open letter “simply repeats contentious assertions from the white paper and consultation without engaging with the numerous concerns raised by Racing Post readers and contributors. In fact, it dismisses those concerns as groundless.”
The Commission takes exception with what it describes as “a blatant lack of balance in a newspaper”. This may or may not be the case; but it raises a question with regard to why the Commission has not been similarly exercised in relation to clearly unbalanced reporting on the subject of betting over a long period of time by national newspapers, such as the Guardian. The open letter thus appears to be yet another example of selective intervention in a long series of selective interventions that betrays the regulator’s claims to impartiality.
The Commission also complain by being denied a right of reply by the Racing Post and then go on to prohibit comments on their Twitter posts. We have to ask whether you as a Minister are satisfied that a regulator will only accept engagement from consumers, either directly or indirectly, subject to them agreeing to their dogmatic presentation of statistics and views concerning gambling harm?
We also wish raise concerns on how the Commission’s open letter also misuses Official Statistics on the prevalence of ‘problem gambling’ and ‘at risk gambling’ by combining estimates derived from two different screening instruments in an inconsistent fashion. This is not simply our view, but the opinion of the Commission itself, which states on its website: “estimates of problem gambling measured by either the DSM-IV or the PGSI should not be combined with PGSI low risk and moderate risk estimates to create an overall ‘at-risk’ figure. This is because these groups are not mutually exclusive (e.g. an individual could be classified as a problem gambler according to the DSM-IV and a moderate risk gambler according to PGSI and would therefore be counted twice in a combined ‘risk’ figure).”
The Commission has pledged to take action against those who misuse Official Statistics – but appears incapable of doing so in an even-handed manner. We have written to the Commission to remind them that misinformation does not simply mean ‘interpretations that I do not agree with’ or ‘references to research that don’t belong in a canon that aligns with my views’. An aggressive promotion of consensus and the stifling of debate is not just a poor but extremely hazardous practice, and only serves to undermine trust in the democratic process of a consultation.
The Gambling Commission’s letter to the Racing Post is likely to deepen suspicion within the horseracing community that the organisation tasked with regulating the market and looking after the best interests of consumers, is in fact intent on dismantling that market and controlling gamblers. We have called upon the Gambling Commission to immediately retract your letter and issue an apology. It is our sincere hope that when you next meet with the Commission, that you are able to challenge their actions in this regard and remind them of the Nolan Principles, which as a regulator that are meant to abide by and quite clearly, due to the reasons outlined, are not doing so.