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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. Under previous legislation, all gambling premises licence applications were subject to a 'demand test' by which the applicant had to prove there was unmet need for their services in their area. The 2005 Act abolished the demand test, replacing it with an 'aim to permit' licence applications, provided that they were reasonably consistent with (a) the licensing principles stated above, (b) the regulator's conditions of practice and (c) the Licensing Authorities Statement of Principles. In 2012, a Select Committee inquiry (3.2MB) concluded that this had led to the clustering of gambling premises in some areas.

Another visible change introduced by the Act was to permit advertisements for gambling across all television, radio and print media (with certain time restrictions for some forms of gambling). In 2013, a survey commissioned by OfCom estimated that 4% of all television adverts were related to gambling and that the average adult would view around 650 gambling adverts per year. 

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.

Page last updated: 12 September 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014