Changes to the UK’s 2005 Gambling Act could come quicker than expected, as most could be done either through the Gambling Commission or statutory instruments applied by the secretary of state, a gambling trade group executive has said.
The key changes anticipated in a UK government white paper on gambling have been debated at length — possible affordability checks, online slots staking limits, new powers for the Gambling Commission and mandatory levies for addiction treatment and research.
But there are no clear-cut rules on how changes might proceed. Rather than a big package of legislation, gambling reform could be broken into a number of initiatives that could come piece by piece, said Wes Himes, executive director of standards and innovation at the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).
The BGC believes that only one potential option would clearly need legislation: if the government were to launch a consumer ombudsman.
Statutory instruments that allow amendments of existing law without parliament having to pass a new act, as well as licensing changes made by the Gambling Commission, could be both rolled out in a matter of weeks or months, rather than the years that a package of new legislation might take, he said.
Himes was among a panel debating possible changes in UK gambling policies at last week’s KPMG Gibraltar eSummit.
The so-called white paper laying out potential changes is now expected before parliamentary recess, which starts on July 21.
Gibraltar is a hub for online gambling companies targeting the UK, while Malta focuses on those targeting the European Union.
Both have been the subject of international scrutiny — Gibraltar has just been named to the Financial Action Task Force greylist, the same day as Malta came off.
The possible creation of a consumer ombudsman is a concern if its lines of authority overlap with the Gambling Commission, as gambling operators could be punished twice for the same set of failures in customer interaction, said David McLeish of Wiggin law firm.
“It needs to be made very clear what those lines are,” he said.
One worry is a suggestion that the Gambling Commission might take global revenue into account when assessing fines, panellists said.
Gambling Commission chairman Marcus Boyle has promised to boost the size of fines to match what the commission considers to be severe problems with gamblers being allowed to bet way beyond their means.
The commission has levied £130m in fines over five years, with the highest being a £13m penalty for Caesars Entertainment for money laundering and social responsibility failures.
888 Holdings, which is acquiring the European portions of William Hill, was fined £9.4m earlier this year.
“The concept of [fines linked to] global revenue is quite a scary thing to put out there,” McLeish said.
Panellists suggested that the possibility of affordability limits, or spending thresholds at which enhanced financial checks are made, may not be as terrifying to the industry as it was when the idea first surfaced a few years ago.
Some operators have already tightened their affordability limits, and others could apply third-party services to make checks less intrusive, they said.
In the end, affordability checks could turn out to be “uncomfortably comfortable” for gamblers, McLeish said.