UK Committee Questions Lobbyists On White Paper Recommendations

July 12, 2023
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Members of a British parliamentary committee that will help implement the gambling white paper have tussled with industry lobbyists over issues including advertising restrictions, the impact of the black market and a statutory levy.

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Members of a British parliamentary committee that will help implement the gambling white paper have tussled with industry lobbyists over issues including advertising restrictions, the impact of the black market and a statutory levy.

One member of a Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) select committee examining gambling, Rupa Huq, called for restrictions to protect younger people from exposure to gambling ads.

Citing calls from public health officials for a ban, she advocated a return to pre-2005 advertising restrictions, which prohibited broadcast advertising for all forms of gambling except bingo and lottery.

But Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher claimed the government had examined research for the white paper, without finding a link between advertising and gambling harm.

“Banning advertising would be a gift to the black market,” said Wes Himes, also of the BGC. “Advertising is one of the privileges of a licence.”

The DCMS committee has been soliciting views on the white paper, asking for views on the most welcome proposals, whether there are significant gaps and what the barriers are to delivering its most significant measures by the target period of Summer 2024.

It is taking comments through to this Friday (July 14).

Questioning was mostly polite, at least compared with queries directed at industry officials at sessions of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm, an informal group of MPs that has scrutinised the industry and issued critical reports.

The APPG has questioned the lack of calls for restrictions on gambling advertising in the white paper, which instead leaned on voluntary plans for sponsorship curbs from football’s Premier League not fully enacted until after the 2025-26 season.

Dugher said the BGC supports limits on in-stadium ads, but maintained that those issues are a matter for the sporting leagues to decide.

Some of the DCMS committee members, including chair Caroline Dinenage, declared that they had accepted entertainment from the lobbying group, without specifying the nature of the entertainment.

Not addressed was a letter by a member of the House of Lords, Donald Foster, who claimed that the BGC distorted the results of a survey it commissioned to claim a surge in use of illegal gambling sites during last year’s FIFA World Cup.

The full report, not divulged in press releases, described overall penetration of the black market as “low”, and as little as 1 percent of overall spending, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Separately, a BGC spokesman responded that the report was commissioned to “analyse the scale of the growing, unsafe, unregulated gambling black market online, and its findings were accurately reported”.

Also appearing before the committee were representatives of land-based gambling, whose members have been projected to gain from proposed white paper changes, such as approval of cashless gaming and loosening of restrictions on distribution of gaming machines.

In contrast, the government predicted the industry overall would lose up to 8 percent in gross gambling yield, due to greater impact on the online industry.

The changes targeting land-based outlets will enable venues to replace outdated machines with energy-efficient ones and change the mix to better reflect consumer tastes, said John White, chief executive of bacta, the amusements industry trade group.

But bacta and the Bingo Association baulked at proposals to impose a statutory levy.

The current voluntary contribution of 0.1 percent of revenue is workable, whereas 1 percent of revenue would be ruinous because both industries are grappling with both high utility costs and recovering from COVID-19, their leaders said.

Bacta’s surveys of its members indicate that at the 1 percent level, “there’s a 77 percent probability businesses will close”, White said.

Executives of both trade groups said they were concerned the levy would be imposed before the modernisation measures that should boost the land-based industries.

“We need help now,” said Miles Baron, chief executive of the Bingo Association. “We need these wins and freedoms to survive.”

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