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New curbs for online gambling ‘catastrophe’ as Premier League clubs escape sponsor ban

Boris Johnson is poised to announce curbs on online gambling in an effort to stem the “catastrophic” impact of addiction on people’s lives.

Ministers will publish a review of the 17-year-old gambling legislation amid concerns that it has been rendered outdated by the explosion in popularity of online betting.

The curbs will include maximum stakes of between £2 and £5 for online casinos, a ban on free bets and VIP packages for those who incur heavy losses, and “non-intrusive” affordability checks.

Companies will also be required to remove features from online games that increase the level of risk for customers, such as quick games in which customers can lose money faster.

The Gambling Commission, which regulates the industry, will be given new powers and additional funding from an increase in fees paid by the industry.

A new ombudsman will be set up to bolster people’s rights if gambling companies fail to be socially responsible.

While imposing tougher restrictions online, the government will relax regulations for bricks-and-mortar casinos, allowing them to install a maximum of 80 gaming machines rather than the present 20. Casinos will also be able to extend credit to wealthy foreigners. This forms part of an attempt to “level the playing field” with online casinos.

However, ministers have dropped plans to ban gambling companies from sponsoring Premier League football shirts after a backlash from the industry.

Nearly half of the clubs in last season’s competition, including West Ham and Newcastle, were sponsored by gambling companies, which has led to criticism from MPs and campaigners. The government is hoping to reach a voluntary agreement with the clubs while keeping the option of legislation in reserve.

Plans for a mandatory levy on the gambling industry to fund research and treatment of addiction, based on the “polluter pays” principle, have also been rejected.

At present online stakes are not limited. The government will announce minimum stakes to create “parity” with the limits introduced on addictive gambling machines called fixed-odds betting terminals.

Betting companies will be required to carry out financial checks on people if there is a risk that they are making unsustainable losses. They will also be barred from targeting customers who lose significant amounts of money with free bets or bonuses.

The government estimates that online gambling revenues could fall by more than £700 million as a result of the restrictions.

A Public Health England (PHE) study last September found an estimated 409 suicides were linked to gambling in England every year. A 2019 report by the Gambling Commission and the Gamble Aware charity found that 5 per cent of problem gamblers had attempted suicide in the previous year.

A coroner said in March that a 24-year-old teacher with a gambling addiction who killed himself was failed by “woefully inadequate” warnings and treatments. Jack Ritchie’s disorder “spiralled out of control” and his family said he was the victim of “predatory” gambling companies.

Campaigners are concerned about the pervasiveness of advertising on television and in the sporting world.

The UK is one of the world’s biggest gambling markets, with profits of £14.2 billion in 2020. PHE estimated that problem gambling caused an annual economic burden of £1.27 billion.

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