The liberalisation of betting has had some damaging effects and the industry should stop denying it

New Labour liberalised gambling in Britain with the 2005 Gambling Act, which introduced one of the most permissive regulatory frameworks in the world. The idea was that more betting would deliver economic benefits, and in one sense it did. The gross take from gambling has nearly doubled, with punters losing £10.2bn a year. The industry’s marketing spend has boomed. And HM Revenue and Customs has gained too: Denise Coates, who runs the Stoke-based gambling giant Bet365, paid £573m in taxes in 2019-20 – over £100m more than anyone else.

But along with the increase in gambling came rises in the harms associated with it. When the legislation was passed, concerns were focused on supercasinos. But what happened, instead of the creation of giant hubs, is that gambling (like so much else) moved online and to smartphones, where in-play betting during the course of a football match or other event became one of the most popular ways to bet. The other big change was the spread of fixed-odds betting terminals, from which gambling companies earned huge amounts: £1.8bn in profits each year until the maximum stake was slashed from £100 to £2 in 2020, following a public outcry and the high-profile resignation of a Conservative minister, Tracey Crouch.

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