Gambling probe launched amid fears of money laundering and spiralling debt

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The Government has promised to review gambling legislation but patience is running out amid worries that the industry could be used for money laundering.

A boom in online and mobile gaming has seen licensed gambling grow by 57 percent in a decade – fuelling worries about the human cost.

Betting companies in Great Britain enjoyed a “yield” of £11.3billion (bets placed less winnings paid out) in 2018-19, with gambling duties of £3billion going to the Treasury.

MPs including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith have written to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, urging him not to delay reform, stating: “Enough is enough.”

A House of Lords report last month warned of a “perfect storm of addictive 24/7 gambling”, claiming that one “problem gambler” takes his or her life every day and there are 55,000 problem gamblers aged 11–16.

North West Durham Conservative MP Richard Holden is concerned by a lack of transparency in the industry, saying it was a “real issue” that “because so many of these companies are based offshore even though they are registered in the UK [it] is very difficult to track some of their operations”.

Mr Holden is also worried that people may be turning to crime or falling deep into debt to deal with their gambling losses. He wants to know how many people are in prison because they started stealing to pay off debt or fund a gambling habit.

He said: “We can find out how people have been busted for drugs and things like that but it seems to be impossible to get these stats for gambling.”

Pushing for a meaningful review of the rules covering gambling, he said: “What we can’t have is a small scale review. This needs to be looking at the entirety of the 2005 Gambling Act.

“It needs to be looking at online, casinos and bookies and it needs to be considering advertising as well. It cannot be a cursory glance over it. It has to be a real deep dive into it.

“That’s the important thing about it.”

The UK is home to an estimated 395,000 problem gamblers, and awareness is increasing of the cost this places on the public purse.

The NHS is committed to expanding the coverage of services for people with serious problems. Up to 15 clinics will be open by 2023-24.

Carolyn Harris, the Swansea East Labour MP who chairs the all-party group on gambling-related harm, said: “At the very beginning of this year we heard about gambling companies [making] people sign up for betting accounts so they could watch live football… Since then every week we have heard ever more about the harm being caused.

“Gambling harm is a major problem in this country and yet the Government is doing nothing about it. I am appalled that they stand-by while every-day people are losing more than they can afford and young children are bombarded by gambling advertising.”

Treasury Minister John Glen addressed concerns about money laundering in the industry, saying the UK had a “comprehensive” anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing regime which was recognised as “one of the toughest”. He added that the Gambling Commission conducts a “yearly money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessment”.

The Government says it will announce details about the promised gambling review “in due course”.

A Gambling Commission spokesman said: “All licensed gambling operators – no matter where they are based – have the same responsibilities to keep financial crime out of gambling, but online and land-based casinos have additional responsibilities under money laundering regulations…“

The Gambling Commission is committed to drastically reducing gambling harm and we have very clear expectations of how operators must do everything that they can to protect all of their customers from experiencing harm, and we will step in where we see operators failing to do so…“

Protecting children and vulnerable people from gambling harms is at the heart of our work and any child experiencing harm from gambling is unacceptable.”

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