A new face in the Department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) has the gambling industry on edge as a long-awaited white paper on reform is due for publication.
Later this year the DCMS will publish a white paper that will set out their intentions for a new Gambling Bill to be presented to parliament in 2022. The regulations to be enforced under the new legislation are expected to include the biggest changes to the industry since the 2005 Gambling Act that was overseen by Tony Blair’s Labour government.
The fierce debate around how far regulation of the world’s biggest legal gambling market should go will reach fever pitch when the Bill goes to parliament next year. Cross party groups in the Commons, big players on both sides in the media, charities, and industry bodies themselves will all argue out just how far restrictions on personal freedom should be balanced by measures to protect the vulnerable and curb the more aggressive marketing tactics of big betting firms.
A cabinet re-shuffle that saw John Whittingdale removed from his post within the DCMS, which included overseeing the new Gambling Act, and replaced with Chris Philp has put the industry on edge again. Whittingdale had past experience of working with new gambling legislation and was widely seen to favour soft-touch regulation. Philp on the other hand campaigned for stricter regulation of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) before the maximum stakes were reduced from £100 to £2.
This new face in charge at the DCMS may be a sign that the government will look to push through a tougher bill next year. Here are the most pressing concerns for an industry that has a lot at stake in the next 12 months.
Deposit limits and affordability checks
The new act aims to tackle the problem of gambling addiction and to prevent gamblers from spending more than they can afford at betting sites in the UK. Existing regulation puts the onus on the operators to monitor customer spends and intervene if they are perceived to be spending beyond their means. However, with 50% or more of their revenue derived from just 10% of their customer base, bookmakers and casinos are believed to be reluctant to intervene where big spenders are concerned.
In other regulated markets, caps on monthly deposits and losses are used to prevent gamblers spending excessively. However, limits such as these don’t take into account the wide differences in income in the UK market.
Therefore, affordability checks are seen as a useful alternative. It seems likely that these checks will form part of the new regulation in 2022, but in what format it is not yet clear. Previous suggestions that they should be made for deposits of as little as £100 per month were met with outcry from both the industry and consumers. It does seem grossly unfair that someone who wants to spend just £100 or their own income should be required to submit pay slips and bank account statements. So, the actual threshold could be much higher.
Alternatives that have been suggested include ‘behind-the-scenes’ affordability checks carried out by existing firms like Experian that would be less intrusive and could be done at a low threshold without the need to request information directly from a gambler.
How, and at what level these checks are imposed is a highly controversial issue and will likely lead to vociferous debate in Parliament next year. Under John Whittingdale the government has stated that affordability will certainly be part of the new legislation, though at what level is yet to be decided.
Last month it was reported in the Daily Mail that under the new Act sponsorship of Premier League club football shirts by betting firms would be banned, though that ban may not stretch to the lower league clubs. This would be a big change with 9 or the current 20 teams in the English top-flight carrying the name of a gambling brand on the front of their shirts. Whilst this change will be welcomed, many reformers will be pushing for much more, including bans on pitch-side advertising and a blanket ban on TV advertising.
The suggestion that the ban will stop at Premier League team shirts may hint at the direction the new Act will take with government prepared to introduce measures that grab the headlines, but stopping at some of the more restrictive proposals that groups like the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group are pushing for.
Stake limits and casino game regulation
Casino games are the target of some of the most vociferous campaigning against the industry. This is partly down to the fast turnaround of each bet on games like slots which makes it possible for players to spend large amounts of money in a short space of time.
On October 30th a series of new rules will come into place that will enforce a minimum time of 2.5 seconds for a single slot spin, ban the Autoplay feature that allows players to spin ‘hands free’ and remove any features in a game that give the illusion of control.
These measures precede the new Gambling Act and are part of ongoing changes to the industry imposed by the current regulator, the UK Gambling Commission. Their work in recent years has included a ban on credit card deposits and more stringent ID and age verification checks. However, one big change that is being left to the government to conclude on is that of stake limits. It is widely believed that with next year’s Act a stake limit of £2 will be imposed on slot games.
The issue of problem gambling in the UK continues to raise alarm in the media, whilst the potential response of the government has been causing alarm in the industry for several years now. For betting businesses, the online sector generates close to £5 billion in revenue per year and for the government, over £3 billion in taxes. So, it is no wonder the government is treading carefully in its approach to regulation with the new Act. With the publication of its white paper in the coming weeks it will become clearer just where the lines will be drawn and what the outcome will be for betting firms and their punters.
Please play responsibly. For more information and advice visit www.begambleaware.org