Labour party plans radical overhaul of gambling regulation and advertising

Just days ahead of its annual conference, the Labour Party has today published its response to a review it has undertaken over the last year into problem gambling and its treatment, announcing new policies that will be in its next manifesto, including:

  • a ‘whistle to whistle’ ban on gambling advertising in live sport,
  • introduction of a compulsory levy on gambling operators of 1% of Gross Gambling Yield (“GGY”),
  • new clinical guidelines and increased resources for the treatment of gambling addiction,
  • new rules to allow addicts to tell their bank to stop online gambling transactions and
  • a ban on credit card betting.

David Clifton (pictured above) was interviewed by Gambling Compliance shortly after speaking at the Betting on Sports conference and his immediate criticisms of two of the new policies are contained in an article entitled “UK Labour Party Officially Backs Live Sports Advertising Ban, Mandatory Gambling Levy” that can be downloaded below.

In the article, David:

  • calls the plan to ban gambling ads during live sport “a complete overreaction to public concern” and “an unwarranted intrusion into the freedom of operators to market their services in a responsible way”, and

  • describes the plan to force banks to offer a form of self-exclusion as “a blatant attempt to catch the popular vote in a way that should be an action of last resort”, suggesting that, before forcing all banks to introduce similar schemes, “first let’s give GAMSTOP a chance”.

David’s criticisms of Labour’s plans in the above two respects are prompted by his view that insufficient account has been taken of:

  • the tougher standards on gambling advertising that came into force in April this year, designed to ensure that advertising does not appeal to or target problem gamblers; this includes advertising that creates an inappropriate sense of urgency, such as “Bet Now!” during live events,
  • the changes to the Gambling Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (“LCCP”), coming into force on 31 October 2018, that will open the door to tougher enforcement action against gambling companies that breach advertising rules, and
  • the soon to be triggered one month notification period for LCCP Social Responsibility code provision 3.5.5 to come into force, at the expiry of which – presently anticipated to be the New Year – all such operators must be registered and fully integrated with GamStop.

Insofar as the other three plans mentioned above are concerned, whilst (a) the call for new clinical guidelines and increased resources for the treatment of gambling addiction is likely to attract general support from the public and industry alike and (b) the plan to ban credit card betting is not new (the Gambling Commission having stated in its March 2018 Online Gambling Review that it is considering whether gambling on credit should continue to be permitted), the proposed compulsory 1% GGY levy is likely to cause controversy amongst the industry.

In this latter respect, the Remote Gambling Association (“RGA”) and others (including the ABB, Paddy Power/Betfair and Sky Betting & Gaming) support imposition of a statutory levy to replace the current system of voluntary funding for research, education, and treatment of problem gambling (“RET”).

Indeed Clive Hawkswood, Chief Executive of the RGA, is reported in today’s iGamingBusiness (under the heading “RGA ‘supports thrust’ of Labour Gambling Review”) as saying “it is apparent to all that significantly more must be raised than is possible under the voluntary system which is overseen by GambleAware”. 

However, it is the level of the Labour Party’s proposed levy of 1% GGY, equivalent to nearly £140million, that will be controversial, bearing in mind that it:

  • represents ten times the 0.1% minimum voluntary donation presently requested by GambleAware that, interestingly, did not specify in its response to the Labour Party review any figure other than £13.8million as the appropriate level at which to set a compulsory levy, and
  • seemingly disregards the very substantial additional funding that GambleAware already receives from regulatory settlements agreed between gambling companies and the Gambling Commission (as acknowledged by GambleAware in its 19 July 2018 press release, when announcing that it would double its annual spending on tackling gambling-related harms to £16million over each of the next two years).

In its “Review of problem gambling and its treatment” document (that can also be downloaded below), the Labour Party does seek to explain why it has concluded that (a) current levels of funding for RET are wholly inadequate and (b) a mandatory levy of 1% of GGY is required in order to deliver “a world class RET framework”.

In its press release, the Labour Party quotes Tom Watson (its Deputy Leader and the Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary) commenting on the new policies as follows:

“Problem gambling is Britain’s hidden epidemic and we must treat it as a public health emergency. Current gambling regulation is not up to the job of protecting addicts and those at risk of addiction. Treatment is patchy across the country and too often patients are misdiagnosed and not treated by specialists who can spot the signs of gambling addiction. Gambling companies have to take more responsibility for harm caused by their products and contribute more to research and treatment. We must also face up to the negative effect the explosion in gambling advertising has had and act accordingly. It’s what any responsible Government looking to address gambling addiction must do. The refusal of the current Government to address any of these issues is letting problem gamblers and their families down. Labour’s new policies announced today aim to build a world class framework for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.”

Whilst no criticism should be attached to the Labour Party’s concerns about the need to address problem gambling (notwithstanding that the most recently published Gambling Behaviour Report shows a reduction in the rate of problem gambling across Britain from 0.8% to 0.7% of the adult population), party politics may account for the absence of any acknowledgment in Tom Watson’s above statement of the package of measures announced by the Gambling Minister Tracey Crouch MP on 17 May this year on publication of the Government’s response to its consultation on gaming machines and social responsibility measures. This included confirmation that, for the first time, the Government has formally recognised gambling-related harm as a public health issue and has asked Public Health England to conduct an evidence review to inform action on prevention and treatment. David Clifton commented further on this in his June 2018 Licensing Expert article for SBC News entitled “Collaboration – the Name of the Game”.

A full list of the Labour Party’s recommendations (including “a new Gambling Act, fit for the digital age with an increased emphasis on public health and harm prevention”) is set out as follows at the end of the “Review of problem gambling and its treatment” document:

  • An immediate priority is the development of NICE guidelines for gambling disorder, and a ‘national training programme’ for practitioners in IAPT services and other local addiction services.
  • We wish to see local authorities and clinical commissioning groups take on additional responsibilities for RET for gambling disorder.
  • Additional resources, raised by a mandatory levy on gambling companies would allow for greater training, capacity and expertise in these services and would also allow for the establishment of additional specialised regional gambling treatment centres to further increase treatment capacity.
  • We recommend the formation of a working group between DCMS and DHSC to co-ordinate gambling policy, the treatment of problem gambling and its wider effects on public health.
  • We propose an adoption of a ‘whistle to whistle’ ban for gambling adverts in live football and other sports whereby gambling adverts are restricted from a defined period before and after a match, as well as during the entirety of the fixture. The effectiveness of these measures should be evaluated before deciding on whether further restrictions are needed.
  • We will consult with sports governing bodies and professional leagues widely before implementing this and will consider limited exemptions for sports intrinsically linked to gambling such as horse racing.
  • We propose that regulators, clubs and national sports associations should commit to limiting gambling advertising on pitch side advertising.
  • Labour has also previously called for a ban on shirt sponsorship by gambling companies in the Premier League, which we hope clubs will adhere to on a voluntary basis. However we are ready to enforce this by other means, including legislation, if clubs fail to agree.
  • We believe the loophole, that permits online games to be targeted at children should be closed. The responsibility to ‘not deliberately provide facilities for gambling in such a way as to appeal particularly to children or young people’ is already part of the licensing conditions for non-remote operators. It is unquestionable that this should be extended to the remote sector.
  • Furthermore online gambling style games, should be limited to over 18s only. In cases where gambling style apps are offered to children or adolescents through social media, regulators should have additional powers to have these apps removed if social media platforms do not provide adequate additional age verification.
  • We propose that credit card betting should be banned.
  • We want to see collaboration with major banks and financial firms to allow gamblers to stop transactions using the Merchant Category Codes on their debit cards, should they choose to do so.
  • We agree that councils should be given extra powers to prevent clustering of betting shops on high streets and that new proposed premises should be subject to a series of impact assessments. In addition to this, it should be a condition for the licensing of betting shops that they are staffed by at least two staff at any point.
  • The next Labour Government will introduce a new Gambling Act, fit for the digital age with an increased emphasis on public health and harm prevention.
  • Introduce a mandatory levy to fund RET of problem gambling – potentially through a new act of Parliament
  • Increase recommended amount for mandatory levy to 1% of GGY – up from 0.1%, in order to develop truly ‘world class’ RET framework
  • Review the tripartite system to ensure it is fit for purpose and able to delivery on increased capacity/funding and can demonstrate true independence from industry

The latest YouGov/ Times voting intention survey sees the Conservatives on 40% and Labour on 36%. However, the last General Election proved that national opinion polls are not necessarily indicative of the public’s voting intentions on polling day, so the Labour Party’s recommendations should most certainly not be ignored by the gambling industry.

UPDATE: It appears that the Labour Party’s plans may receive a degree of cross-party support if the views stridently expressed on 8 October 2018 by Conservative peer Lord Chadlington in an article entitled “We need to take bold action with gambling-related harm” in The House – Parliament’s Magazine are shared by other members of his party.


Download article PDF: Labour Party press release 20.09.18