British politicians discussed online gambling – legalised in Britain – at a Westminster Hall debate Wednesday, throwing some interesting numbers around in the process.
Don Foster, a frequent and opinionated critic of online gambling and Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, said the industry has revenues of GBP12.5 billion a year, but only a thousand sites were regulated out of the 6 000 he claimed were online. Foster criticised the UK Gambling Commission, saying it had done no "mystery shopping" on white-listed remote gaming websites. However, he did salute Betfair for its effort in passing on suspect betting patterns to the authorities.
Conservative Party MP Tobias Ellwood was concerned at what he called the "uneven playing field" differences between the UK's open but regulated remote gaming market and the monopolistic and exclusionary regimes in several other European Union member nations. He characterised the present EU system as "very much flawed" in that it did not offer an equitable and open market to gambling companies in EU nations vis-a-vis other EU nations. He also suggested the development of a widely recognised kitemark for online spread betting sites to identify those which were safe and regulated.
Conservative MP Bob Neill later told the Commons that the "enormous growth" of the Internet meant there are now around seven thousand online gambling sites and most of them are not effectively regulated.
Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe responded to the debate, arguing that the Gambling Act had implemented a robust regulatory framework and had taken "remote gambling" into account.
He expressed doubts over the figures supplied [by the politicians] and pointed out that the growth in the numbers of those gambling in the UK were overwhelmingly increases in National Lottery gambling rather than other forms of the pastime.
He added that funding for research and education of problem gamblers was vital and emphasised the government support given to these projects, revealing that GBP15 million was soon to be spent on tackling gambling addiction.