London, England - U.K. Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson has announced that if their party wins the next general election, they will set up a new gambling ombudsman to oversee the industry and protect vulnerable players. For their part, the U.K. Gambling Commission has told Gambling Insider that they will “consider the case for an ombudsman.”
On Monday, June 17th, the Guardian reported that Watson will be making a speech at the Demos thinktank, where he will announce their plan to overhaul U.K. betting regulation by way of a new Gambling Act. This development is said to be the result of a party review conducted and published last year. The call for a gambling ombudsman is one of the major parts of the overhaul that they are planning, and Watson cites a number of scandals and concerns about predatory practices said to be present in the gambling industry as the main reasons for needing an overhaul.
The ombudsman is planned to form part of a tripartite system that will oversee the gambling industry, joining the National Health Service (NHS) and the Gambling Commission. The trio will be tasked with ensuring that gambling operators in the U.K. are dealing with customers in a fair manner and that potential harms caused by gambling products will be minimised.
Watson is said to believe that the current setup of the Gambling Commission, the GambleAware charity funded by the gambling industry itself, and the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling is not performing as well as it should due to “an overstretched regulator, an underfunded commissioner using voluntary contributions, and no formal recourse for consumer protection, no formal integration with the NHS.” With the new system they plan to put in place, Watson says the party aims to do away with “unclear terms and conditions, a lack of transparency, a lack of framework,” which they believe to be “fuelled by predatory bonus offers.”
Asked for comment, a Gambling Commission spokesperson said: “We have a statutory role to provide advice to government on gambling, including its effects and regulation. We expect gambling firms to treat customers fairly and when things go wrong, put them right. Consumers also have a right to refer disputes to an approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider. Within the last year, we have introduced new standards on both ADR providers and gambling businesses to improve the way they handle individual consumer complaints. We will continue to drive up standards and consider the case for an ombudsman.”
The call for an ombudsman drew mixed reactions from a new non-profit organisation called Safer Online Gambling Group (SOGG), which is supported by such gambling operators as GVC Holdings. Campaigners Adam and David Bradford said it certainly is an interesting proposal, but it’s “not substantial enough to protect vulnerable gamblers.” As for campaign group Justice for Punters, Brian Chappell has this to say: “It’s nearly three years since we first discussed an ombudsman for gambling with the powers that be, so we’re delighted it’s now been considered seriously in parliament. It should make gambling fairer and safer, so good for the consumer.”