UK government cabinet ministers are giving their final thoughts on the much-delayed Gambling Act review white paper, according to the minister in charge of gambling policy, including the scrapping of wide-ranging affordability checks.
However, the paper's release date and final contents have still not been confirmed, Paul Scully, the minister for technology at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), told members of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) at their annual general meeting (AGM) in London on Thursday (January 26).
One thing that apparently will not be in the paper is affordability checks, instead it would be more suited to call them “financial risk checks” as it is “not the role of government to tell people how much they can spend on gambling”, Scully claimed.
These checks will seek to be more targeted, aimed at vulnerable customers and those exhibiting markers of harm, such as “higher spending binge behaviour”.
"I don’t think we would be providing better protections to consumers by moving to a black-and-white world where only financial indicators are considered. It is essential that operators use all the information they have on customers and their wider risk profile to inform the right interventions," Scully said.
The white paper will be followed by consultations on details.
"When it comes to financial risk checks, the coming months will provide the opportunity to nail down and test the logistics for frictionless checks, to design the necessary data safeguards and to establish the best possible framework for identifying and acting on financial risk," Scully said.
Scully also wants to “remove unnecessary restrictive controls” in response to the land-based sector being affected by the economic headwinds of COVID-19 recovery and rising energy prices.
BGC CEO Michael Dugher responded to the points made in Scully’s talk later on in the day, calling the change to financial risk checks “more than just a name change”.
Dugher argued that many in the gambling industry are already instructed to carry out some form of affordability check “but they are different everywhere, inconsistent and with very little transparency”.
“I hope financial risk checks will be required by everyone in the gambling industry. At the moment the industry is being picked off one by one. Government makes policies but it is up to the regulator to enforce them. I want the white paper to include as much detail as possible and be very clear and prescriptive about what should and should not happen. It's got to have clarity,” Dugher said.
Responding to a question from the crowd about reports in two major newspapers this week stating a statutory levy on the industry would be included in the white paper, Dugher dismissed the claim, adding that people close to the white paper process cannot even say what will be in the final version.
Brigid Simmonds, chair of the BGC, said critics of the industry that want a new tax “would not raise any extra funds for charity but would instead dismantle existing charity funds”.
Discussing a possible timeline for the release of the white paper at the sidelines of the event, attendees of the AGM had very varied opinions, with some being adamant it will be released during ICE London, which takes part on February 7-9, 2023.
Others were less optimistic, believing that ministers looking over the paper will not be done in less than a month.
Another theory, repeated by a few people, was that the white paper would be published prior to Michelle Donelan, secretary of state for the DCMS, leaving for her planned maternity leave sometime in 2023.