UK Gambling Act Review: Questions to Answer

Joe Ewens


February 23, 2024

The government’s decision to introduce a statutory levy for gambling research and treatment has brought to a close one chapter of the long-running argument around safer gambling funding in the UK, but in the process has turned the page to reveal a raft of new questions. In this blog, we delve into some of those questions, and speak with Dan Waugh, Regulus Partners, and Sarah Fox, Deputy Director Gambling & Lotteries, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, for their perspectives.

In October last year the Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced that it planned to require most gambling operators to pay a mandatory levy of 1 percent on gross gambling yield (GGY).

The changes are part of the wide ranging so-called “white paper” alterations to UK gambling regulation that are currently being put into effect.

The levy change would bring to an end the current regime of voluntary funding, through which the industry channels 0.1 percent of profits to research and treatment via charity GambleAware.

The UK’s largest operators also currently deliver 1 percent of their GGY to further gambling harm prevention via an independent arrangement.

The news of a statutory levy was broadly greeted with warmth from charity leaders, but there have been concerns that existing third sector bodies that act to tackle gambling harm could lose funding.

The DCMS will be responsible for deciding where the money is spent and there are fears that existing groups with decades of experience will lose out.

Some commentators have also warned that money for research could flow overwhelmingly to academics and health officials that have a moral objection to gambling.

“A money tree is being planted here, which will not be used for the benefit of consumers, but will be used by those that have a moral distaste for gambling,” said veteran policy analyst Dan Waugh, of Regulus Partners, speaking on a Vixio webinar.

The DCMS says organisations such as the National Health Service (NHS) will be heavily involved in commissioning decisions and will receive between 40 to 60 percent of the levy for treatment and support services.

Senior health service leaders have been deeply critical of the gambling industry in recent years.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England's national mental health director, said in 2021: “The betting, gaming industry falls woefully, harmfully, short of showing any real desire to regulate itself. It’s naive to believe it will in my opinion.”

The DCMS says that the secondary legislation required to implement the levy will oblige it to ensure its commissioning decisions are fair and balanced.

The need for parliamentary approval for the levy to take effect also raises questions about when it will actually be introduced.

A consultation on the changes closed in December and the DCMS is yet to publish its final plans.

Secondary legislation is less intensive to pass than primary legislation, but still requires parliamentary time.

A UK general election is imminent, and must take place in any case before the end of this year, meaning time and political attention spans are short to implement many of the planned white paper changes

Should Labour unseat the Conservatives, as the polls suggest, it is unlikely to lead to the cancellation of the statutory levy - which many Labour figures have publicly called for in the past - but it will delay its implementation.

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