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Gambling: policy context

Responsibility for policy and for the regulation of gambling is not currently devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Policy responsibility for gambling is held by the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport and is regulated by the Gambling Commission.

The main legislation governing how gambling is provided and regulated in the UK is The Gambling Act, 2005 (The Act). This introduced significant changes in the way gambling was licensed, regulated and promoted to the British public. 

The Act is underpinned by three licensing objectives which are to: 

  • prevent gambling from being a source of crime and disorder, being associated with crime or disorder, or being used to support crime,
  • ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way,
  • protect children and other vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling.

The Act represented a major change in the way gambling was regulated. The most visible changes were permitting advertisements for gambling across all media (television, radio, print and online) and changes to licensing for venues which a Select Committee inquiry (3.2MB) found had resulted in clustering of bookmakers in certain areas. 

Unlike other public health areas like alcohol or drugs, there are no policy recommendations about recommended levels of gambling. The policy environment is supportive of gambling as a valid leisure activity, though it is recognised that some people can experience severe problems as a result of their gambling behaviour, and that those vulnerable to harm should be protected. Although problem gambling has been recognised as a behavioural addiction, specialist services (along the lines of those provided for illegal drugs and for alcohol) have not been developed.

The National Strategy for Responsible Gambling is the main mechanism through which action is taken to reduce levels of gambling-related harm. This strategy recognises that the harms cause by gambling extend beyond problem gamblers and argues that there is shared responsibility between government, regulators, industry and other public bodies to tackle gambling-related harm. The most recent progress report on the implementation of the National Strategy concluded that progress was slow in many areas and there was still much work to be done.

Page last updated: 02 November 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014