In publishing its latest report, ‘Gambling Harm – Time for Action’, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry has laid what some might regard as a curate’s egg. What sets out as a well-intended raft of recommendations on responsible gambling (good so far) risks leaving the reader none much the wiser (not so good).

There’s some incongruous thinking in there, especially when it comes to age and access and the minimum age for purchasing lottery products. As already covered on Lottery Daily this week, the House has recommended that the minimum age limit on lottery games be lifted from 16 to 18 years. The suggestion was based, it said, on unequivocal written evidence it had received.

By way of background, in July 2019, the UK Government launched a consultation seeking views on whether the minimum age for some, or all, National Lottery games and products should be increased from 16 to 18. 

The consultation set out three possible scenarios: making no change and retaining the minimum age of 16 for all National Lottery games; raising the minimum age from 16 to 18 for National Lottery instant win games such as scratchcards and online instant-win games; and raising the minimum age to 18 for all National Lottery games.

Citing some of the evidence supporting an increase in the age limit, the Lords report quoted the then Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Mims Davies MP, who said: “ …we also need to make sure that the National Lottery is fair and safe. That is why we are looking to raise the minimum age for instant win games so children and young people are protected … ” 

It proceeded to quote Dr Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, who stated that “…the age of national lottery participation should be increased from 16 to 18-year-olds”, adding that the European Lotto Betting Association also supported a minimum age of 18 for access to all forms of commercial gambling. 

The report also claimed that even Camelot had offered no opposition, with Nigel Railton, its Chief Executive stating: “To be honest with you, we are reasonably relaxed about it. For 25 years the age has been 16 so it is probably a good time to look at it. We do not have that many people playing at 16 or 17 online … our position is that it is ultimately a matter for Government and if Government want to raise the age to 18, we will support that.”

As written evidence goes, the above examples can hardly be described as indisputable. They’re simply views, albeit expressed by some incredibly smart individuals.

But ‘evidence’ aside, where it gets really interesting is when you read the very next section of the report which happens to focus on Category D gaming machines in amusement arcades. Despite a series of negative comments about the UK being the only country in the world to allow children access to fruit machines, it suggests doing exactly nothing.

So on one hand, the report backs change for an age policy that’s been in place for 25 years for lottery operators, but on the other steers clear of a similar approach on Category D machines in arcades which, it appears to recommend, should be left as they are. 

The Lords’ rationale, as we read it, is that children have always been allowed to access fruit machines in arcades and that there are newer gateways to gambling for minors that need to be addressed. So chase those down instead.

It should be pointed out that we’re neither for nor against age limit increases for either lottery products or Category D gaming machines. We’re merely pointing out what seems to be an anomalous approach to what has become a sensitive and polarising area of debate over the past couple of decades. 

It’s also worth noting that with the vast amount of money that’s been poured into gambling research over the years, one might expect something a little more scientific than paraphrased quotes and opinions when it comes to something as serious as changing the direction of travel for gambling policies. 

But what’s really difficult to understand is the implied acknowledgment by the House in its report (citing select committee findings) that taking action on Category D gaming machines would “devastate individuals, businesses and communities”. In other words, it’s not acceptable to allow businesses to go to the wall, even if might in some small way be responsible for contributing to problem gambling.

That’s perhaps too controversial a view for some to stomach. But in a climate where social responsibility is now an omnipresent leitmotif, it’s surely not asking too much for a bit more consistency from our politicians, particularly those who are deemed sage enough to sit on Parliament’s red benches.