The gambling addiction problem in the UK is turning into a public health crisis, according to British MPs. Gambling firms are exploiting and preying on consumers. MPs now want the £2 maximum bet rule to be applied to online sites alongside fixed-odds betting terminals.

British MPs are warning the government about an emerging public health crisis. They are proposing a maximum stake in online betting to avoid the risks of problem wagering. The Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group says that there is ‘no justification’ for online betting sites that feature slot machine-style games with stakes over £2. In April this year, the government slashed the maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2.

The rules were only applicable to fixed-odds betting terminals, not online sites. Given the popularity of online betting, the legislation must apply to online betting firms as well. The cross-party inquiry also criticized the UK Gambling Commission for its apparent ‘lack of action’ in addressing the ‘high levels of harm’ it causes. The Group also seeks a ban on the use of credit cards for online betting. This could help in reducing the burden of debt on addicts.

The group’s vice-chairman Iain Duncan Smith asked for more power for the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC). He blamed online betting firms for exploiting users without facing the consequences. Smith said that the parliamentarians could not continue to fail vulnerable groups that are addicted to wagering. He called on the commission to look into this matter in depth calling lack of limitation on these platforms. He also asked the commission to enquire into the continuous inducements to gamble which may harm addicts.

Of the 430,000 serious gambling addicts in the country, almost 55,000 are children which poses a major issue for the UKGC. Taxpayers lose £1.2 billion each year, and even donations to gambling charities are not up to the mark. Addicts do not get treatment and support under NHS remit, making a recovery more difficult and expensive. The Group recommends gambling addiction treatment to be brought under the program. It also suggests the imposition of gambler affordability checks and VIP account restrictions for repeat bettors.

The Group further seeks a simplification of gambling terms and conditions to help the gamblers understand their options better. Operators will need to market their products using responsible advertising principles to help protect kids and vulnerable groups. The Group’s chairman Carolyn Harris emphasized the ‘urgent need’ to regulate online betting better.

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