Key UK industry stakeholders are still unaware of the exact contents or release date of the long-awaited Gambling Act Review white paper, but the gambling regulator says it is continuing to take action despite repeated delays.
Ian Angus, director of policy at the Gambling Commission, said the review would play a “big part” in helping make gambling safer, fairer and crime-free.
The regulator is already laying the “groundwork” to implement changes, Angus said during a Westminster Media Forum conference on the future of gambling policy on Monday (April 24).
For instance, Angus discussed ongoing work with the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) on the Single Customer View, as well as investment in improving the existing evidence base to inform policy-making.
Angus also said the regulator would continue to take “unrelenting action” against operators that fail to meet its standards.
Since the start of 2022, the Gambling Commission has concluded 27 enforcement cases with operators paying more than £76m because of regulatory failures.
“The action we are taking makes clear what our expectations are. And at the volume we’re now broadcasting them, we are pretty sure those operators who were still deaf to them a year or two ago, are now getting the message,” Angus said.
The Gambling Commission representative did not directly address affordability in his speech, but when questioned about current requirements repeated the line delivered by Gambling Commission chief executive Andrew Rhodes at ICE in London on February 8.
When discussing the white paper, Brigid Simmonds, chair of the BGC, said she “hasn't got a clue” when it will be released.
“A week is a long time in politics, it is very much up to the government to decide,” Simmonds said.
Simmonds also said she was not aware of what any possible stake limits in the white paper could be.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris recently predicted the white paper would include a statutory levy, which would likely require licensees to pay a set percentage of gross gambling yield (GGR) to an independent body tasked with reducing gambling harm.
The MP is confident there will “be little bits” of the things her all-party parliamentary group is pushing for, such as the creation of an ombudsman.
However, Harris added that the “jury is out” regarding introducing online stake limits in line with the land-based industry and said it is unlikely there will be a complete advertising ban.
On April 4, the BGC said it welcomes the idea of a mandatory levy, but argued there should be a “sliding scale and smaller percentage contributions from land-based gambling businesses who have disproportionately higher fixed costs like more premises and staff”.
Despite this statement and the likelihood of a statutory levy, BGC chair Simmonds said: "The industry has no involvement or any influence at all as to where GambleAware money goes. If you have a gambling problem, only those with an evident disorder will be addressed by existing NHS clinics."
Additionally, Simmonds welcomed the Premier League’s “ownership” over its decision to ban front-of-the-shirt gambling sponsors.
However, professor Agnes Nairn, the co-director of the Bristol Hub for Gambling Harms Research at Bristol University, “very much” hopes that a statutory levy will be introduced.
“We need all research councils to play a part in the distribution of research funds. If the industry is not involved in research - we would love them to be. We have limited access to data, which the industry has in spades. It would be good to have independent people able to look at that,” Nairn said.
Additionally, Nairn questioned the impact of the Premier League shirt sponsorship ban, which still allows for logos to appear elsewhere on shirts and on billboards around the pitch, as she said the impact of advertising comes from exposure, not from where it is seen.
Nairn advocates for UK policymakers and the regulator to more closely align its evidence base regarding gambling advertisements' impacts with other European countries such as Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, which have severely restricted them in recent years.
Dan Waugh of UK-based consultancy and research firm Regulus Partners warned against making any prediction surrounding the white paper's contents.
Waugh also rejected the idea that the UK’s next general election, scheduled to be held no later than January 28, 2025, will delay proposed changes in the white paper, instead predicting that many of the reforms will be “kicked to the Gambling Commission” to deal with.
These would mean some changes could potentially avoid parliamentary scrutiny, with Waugh suggesting this could be less favourable due to what he characterised as the Gambling Commission’s “opaque” decision-making process.
Any proposed changes in the white paper will require consultations and some could even need primary or secondary legislation changes, Steve Ketteley, a partner at law firm Wiggin, explained.
How these consultations are undertaken will be key to the implementation of the white paper, with Ketteley warning that some consultations run by the Gambling Commission in the past have been “foregone conclusions” despite input from stakeholders.
“It is important there is a large-scale collaboration after the white paper lands. Only then do you get an exchange of trust between the regulator and stakeholders,” Ketteley said.