Debate Over Gambling Policy Mostly Over, UK Regulator Says

May 5, 2023
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As UK-licensed gambling operators and their associates scrutinise last week’s white paper, a Gambling Commission official warns not to expect public policy debates to be reopened.

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As UK-licensed gambling operators and their associates scrutinise last week’s white paper, a Gambling Commission official warns not to expect public policy debates to be reopened.

The commission and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) are preparing to launch consultations on key issues starting this summer, with some spilling into next year.

Tim Miller, the commission’s executive director for research and policy, said consultations will be focused on how to implement the changes outlined in the report.

“Whilst not all, many questions of public policy have been settled by the white paper itself,” he wrote. “Where they have, our consultations will not be an opportunity to reopen those debates.”

The Gambling Commission expects to get more funding to fight the black market and meet its expanding responsibilities.

But “the scale of change, even with increased resources in future, means there will be very little space for the commission to consider other policy developments not included in the white paper”, Miller said.

One key proposal the government will be working on is whether to apply a statutory levy based on a principle of “polluter pays”.

The white paper calls for a statutory levy to be collected and distributed by the Gambling Commission under the direction of the Treasury and DCMS ministers.

A consultation on the design and scope of the levy is scheduled for this summer, with provisions to be enacted by secondary legislation, according to the report.

The DCMS promises the rate will be “fairly and proportionately set”, and its consultation will consider “the differing association of different sectors with harm and/or their differing fixed costs”.

Some in the industry suggested that it already pays £2bn a year in duties and employed about 98,000 in the UK in 2019, according to the report.

Other respondents said they would like to see the levy focus on a principle of “polluter pays”, meaning operators responsible for forms of gambling that cause more harm pay more to fund treatment into those harms.

Gambling analysts Regulus Partners wonder whether the National Lottery and charity lotteries, which make up a third of gross gambling yield (GGY), be required to help fund the levy.

Other key issues will be whether B2B suppliers will be required to contribute in a way that does not amount to double taxation, and whether pubs and clubs that offer gambling machines will also be included in the levy, according to Regulus.

A 1 percent GGY rate might generate about £110m, a substantial sum when viewed as 5 percent of big online operator profit, 8 percent of the profit of large betting shops and 20 percent of the profit of many land-based operators, Regulus said.

Last year, the current voluntary levy was criticised as lacking “consistency, transparency and accountability”, according to the Social Market Foundation (SMF) report.

More than £100m was pledged by the biggest operators over four years, but mostly to GambleAware without integration into research councils and the NHS, the foundation said.

Bigger operators pledged 1 percent of GGY, while GambleAware has asked operators to pledge 0.1 percent of GGY.

The SMF called for creation of a Joint Advisory Levy Board that would assess the amount of harm caused by the gambling industry and calculate which parts of the industry generate more harm than others, which would enable creation of a “smart” levy, the report said.

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