The politician leading the review of the UK Gambling Act has been replaced, after falling victim to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle.
Experienced MP John Whittingdale, who only took up his post in March, confirmed he had stepped down as minister for media and data in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on Thursday (September 16).
He has been replaced by Julia Lopez, a relative political newcomer who was first elected in 2017 and joins the DCMS to take up only her second Cabinet role.
A former culture and sports minister, Whittingdale was seen by some as a controversial choice for the job, having previously defended fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which later had maximum stakes slashed from £100 to £2 by his successors at the department.
Michael Dugher, the Betting and Gaming Council’s (BGC) chief executive, lamented the loss of a “talented, tough but fair minister” on social media.
“He always understood the contribution made by the 119,000 people who work for BGC companies. But he was also unrelenting in driving the industry to keep changing and further raise standards on safer gambling,” Dugher said.
David Clifton of Clifton Davies Consultancy told VIXIO it was an “oversimplification” to assume Whittingdale’s departure would be a disaster for the industry.
“Five of his six months as minister have post-dated the end of the government’s call for evidence in relation to the Gambling Act Review, with a distinct likelihood that decisions have now already been made on what will be the key issues within the forthcoming white paper,” Clifton said.
A document outlining the government’s plans to gambling reform is expected before the end of the year.
Speaking to VIXIO before the appointment of Lopez, Clifton said that the Cabinet reshuffle may even improve the level of debate if the new minister, once appointed, is generally perceived as being “neutral” on the issue of gambling reform.
Lopez appears to be just that, with parliamentary records indicating she has never spoken up on gambling issues in parliament.
There is also a new secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, the top job at the DMCS, as Oliver Dowden has been replaced by Nadine Dorries, who was previously appointed minister of state at the Department of Health and Social Care in May 2020.
Dorries has in the past generally voted against greater gambling industry regulation.
Dowden is the new co-chair of the Conservative Party, as well as a minister without portfolio, according to the Cabinet Office.
Separately, Lord Risby was this week reappointed by the secretary of state as a member of the Horserace Betting Levy Board from January 1, 2022 until December 31, 2025.
The appointments follow confirmation that Marcus Boyle will become the new chair of the Gambling Commission this month, taking over from Bill Moyes.
Additional reporting by Joe Ewens.