DCMS Blames Political Difficulties For White Paper Uncertainty

June 14, 2022
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​​​​​​​It is still not clear when in the “coming weeks” the UK’s much-anticipated Gambling Act review white paper will be published or what it will cover, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

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It is still not clear when in the “coming weeks” the UK’s much-anticipated Gambling Act review white paper will be published or what it will cover, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

However, representatives from the DCMS, trade group the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), the Gambling Commission and parliamentarians all agree the key to getting the white paper right is striking a balance between preventing harm and protecting personal freedoms.

Discussing the next steps for UK gambling regulation during a Westminster forum conference on June 13, Andrew Rhodes, the Gambling Commission’s CEO, said gambling businesses look more like technology companies than bookmakers as a result of all the advances made since the 2005 Gambling Act.

Despite not being able to say what will be in the white paper, the regulator highlighted several areas it believes needs to be improved in the meantime.

“Gambling operators are moving towards entertainment business models. Non-gambling brands are also looking to enter the market. We have been warning of the gamification of products such as loot boxes, but we are also concerned with NFTs, cryptos and synthetic shares,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes also confirmed penalty fines will increase for non-compliance and the regulator will be “looking into a range of other things to ensure we can get operators into a compliance space more quickly. We will be talking about this more later this year.”

Sarah Fox, the deputy director of gambling at the DCMS, reiterated Rhodes' message that “an awful lot is happening before the white paper, but it will be a priority in the next few weeks”.

Fox said she is aware of concerns about the timing of the white paper, but still cannot say when it will be published, blaming its delayed release on its complex nature and bundles of submitted evidence, as well as the recent difficult political climate.

“The key to the review is a balance of preventing harm and the need to make sure the Gambling Commission has the power to regulate an increasingly complex sector,” Fox said.

MP Ronnie Cowan, who is also vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm (APPG), took his opportunity as chair of the discussion to reiterate that the APPG and other industry reform campaigners are “not prohibitionists” but instead “want people to gamble in a safe manner and for people to avoid harm”.

Cowan added that he hopes the white paper is not released on the last day of summer recess, scheduled for July 21, so he and other politicians can look at it and discuss it.

BGC chair Brigid Simmonds said her trade group wants additional protections and reforms to be included in the white paper, “while also ensuring the continuation of a world-leading sustainable and successful UK industry”.

Melanie Ellis, a partner at Northridge Law, said she had thought the white paper would already have been released by the time the Westminster forum went ahead on Monday.

When the re-regulation plan is released, Ellis predicts that the government will try to avoid a delay similar to the 2005 Act, which took more than a year to come into effect.

“I think the legal changes in the white paper will be moderate. The government has emphasised several times it will be evidence-based. I don't believe the evidence is there for a complete advertising ban or for a £100 affordability threshold. Front-of-shirt sponsorships in the Premier League are most likely to be targeted, as other sports and leagues are more reliant on gambling,” Ellis said.

However, Dr James Noyes, a senior fellow at the Social Market Foundation, explained that the £100 figure for affordability checks proposed by his organisation was not “plucked out of the air”, and added that he has not seen any evidence since to say the threshold should be higher.

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