Background to the report

Around half of adults in Britain participate in some form of gambling. People gamble when they pay to engage in a game of chance and win a prize of monetary value, including in arcade games, online bingo, casinos or betting on sports. Gambling is a major industry in Great Britain, which generated £11.3 billion of yield (bets placed less winnings paid out) for gambling operators, excluding the National Lottery, in 2018 19. The industry also raises around £3 billion a year in gambling duty.

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Gambling can have significant adverse effects on people, particularly when it becomes addictive. These effects include mental health problems (which can also be a cause of gambling problems), relationship difficulties, large-scale financial loss and, in some cases, crime or suicide. The level and range of harms experienced differ from one person to the next and can be made worse by poor or negligent conduct from gambling operators, for example by encouraging people to play more. ‘Problem gambling’ is gambling considered disruptive and harmful to a person’s health and well being. Harm from gambling is not restricted to problem gamblers, and can also affect other gamblers, friends, family, co-workers and anyone else impacted by a person’s gambling.

The Gambling Commission regulates commercial gambling in Great Britain. All gambling operators must have a licence, and the Commission has powers to set licence conditions and codes of practice, and to monitor and enforce compliance with these. It seeks to ensure gambling is fair and safe and is guided by a statutory objective for gambling licensing to protect children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling. It also has statutory licensing objectives to prevent gambling from being a source of crime and to ensure gambling is conducted fairly and openly, a duty to advise government on gambling regulation, and separate objectives relating to the operation of the National Lottery. The Commission is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and is funded by licence fees from gambling operators.

Content and scope of the report

This report examines the extent to which gambling regulation effectively and proportionately protects people from gambling-related harms and addresses emerging risks, based on established principles of good regulation. It focuses on the role and work of the Commission, but also considers the wider regulatory framework it operates within. It covers whether the Commission:

  • has a good understanding of the problems it is trying to address, and has clearly set out what it is trying to achieve, so that it can direct resources effectively;
  • is both intervening directly and working effectively with others to make gambling safer, based on a good understanding of what works; and
  • has the powers, capacity and expertise it needs to address emerging

Report conclusion

Gambling-related harm is a serious problem for the individual affected and people close to them. It imposes potentially significant costs on public services and society more widely, although government has a limited understanding of these impacts. The Gambling Commission is a small regulator in a challenging and dynamic industry. To reduce these harms, it has increased its regulatory action (such as penalties on operators that break rules) and its collaboration with others in the field. But there is more it needs to do to identify where problems are occurring and ensure gambling operators raise their standards.

The way people gamble is changing, with new risks emerging in online and mobile gambling and other technological developments. The Commission’s ability to ensure consumers are protected from these new risks is constrained by factors outside its control, including inflexible funding and a lack of evidence on how developments in the industry affect consumers. The Commission is unlikely to be fully effective in addressing risks and harms to consumers within the current arrangements.


“Licensed gambling has grown by 57 per cent - £4.1 billion - over the last decade mainly due to a massive increase in online and smartphone gambling. The risks to gamblers are changing as technologies develop.

“Yet the Gambling Commission is a small regulator in a huge and fast-evolving industry. While the Commission has made improvements, gambling regulation lags behind the industry. The Commission and government need to work together to ensure that regulation keeps pace with the risk to gamblers.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO


Publication details

Press release

View press release (28 Feb 2020)

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