Online gambling has long been on the rise in the UK – and with casinos and betting shops closed for lockdowns, consumers have turned more to their phones and laptops to gamble. Last year, the Gambling Commission shed light on the fact that regular gamblers had increased their bets during the lockdown, which led the regulator to demand new measures to protect vulnerable people.

For most people, gambling remains a fun pastime or hobby, but for others it can escalate and develop into an addiction that has a significant impact on financial and mental health. What many do not appreciate, however, is the role banks can and should play in protecting the vulnerable and reducing gambling damage.

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The government is currently reviewing the Gambling Act for the first time since 2005 and this morning Monzo sent a co-authored letter to the ministers who led the review. Backed by leading NHS clinicians, gambling damage charities and leading academics, the letter calls for new requirements that would mean every bank customer in the UK has access to a gambling block in their account, regardless of who they bank with. Together we urge the government to require all UK banks to offer one.

Gambling blocks are a completely voluntary tool that customers who may be at risk or at risk of gambling damage can use to protect themselves. The block can be switched on by users so that card payments to gambling providers are automatically rejected. In Monzo’s case, this helps with self-exclusion, as the customer has to go through a “reflection period” of 48 hours to switch off the block and speak to an employee to confirm his decision. This means that in moments when they are vulnerable, they don’t act spontaneously. It’s a simple fix that we know will work.

Research from Bristol University and Gamble Aware last year found that delayed card blockers have been shown to help users control their gambling. The same report also found that up to 28 million checking account holders in the UK may not have access to a gambling block.

In June 2018, Monzo was the first bank to launch a gambling block – but it’s not an idea we can borrow for. The request to block gambling payments initially came from a handful of customers in our community. As demand increased and inquiries came in, we worked with leading UK academics, health professionals and charities to treat those who have experience with gambling damage.

Then a small team of engineers built it in a few days. Today more than 275,000 of our customers have their gambling block activated and less than 10% of those who have ever turned it on have turned it off permanently.

Many of our customers who have suffered gambling damage have told us that their gambling habits started small and for fun. For some, their bets were growing very quickly and before they knew it they were running up a tremendous amount of debt, which resulted in damaging consequences for their sanity and personal life. Some have admitted that gambling brought them to dark places – and even felt suicidal.

Digital challenger

According to a House of Lords report released in July 2020, two million people are affected by gambling damage caused by family breakdown, crime, job loss, loss of housing and ultimately loss of life. While there is no quick fix to this problem, more can and should be done to address this issue.

That’s why we ask for support when it comes to taking game blocks one step further. Many gambling companies are now offering new payment methods, including bank transfers. Currently, banks cannot consistently access the data required to prevent these direct payments.

Our customers have asked that we do our best to include these payments so they can continue to protect themselves. To this end, we are asking gambling companies to disclose their account details in a central register so that all UK banks can expand their gambling blocks to include bank transfers. We are already working on our own pilot project, but scaling that makes sense for our customers requires government support.

Giving customers the choice and tools they need to keep themselves locked out from gambling has prevented harm. While the gambling law review has brought this important issue back to the table, we should be clear that it is not just the gambling companies that should be doing more. Every UK bank should step up and help its customers too.

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