Battle lines drawn between online gambling operators and The Labour Party?

The following two new media headlines – both coincidentally published today – could almost be construed as indicating that battle lines are being drawn up between The Labour Party on the one hand and remote gambling operators licensed in the UK on the other:

The thrust of The Times article is that, in a letter addressed to the Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission and to the Culture Secretary, the deputy leader of The Labour Party (Tom Watson MP) has questioned the integrity of many online casino operators and said that all UK licensed online casino operators should have to reapply for their operating licences.

In what could almost be construed as a response to that threat given the coincidence of timing, Gaming Intelligence reports that a new trade association “which has yet to be named, is the first to be supported by all of the UK’s largest online operators – bet365, GVC Holdings, Paddy Power Betfair, The Stars Group and William Hill – as well as suppliers Microgaming and Playtech, and primarily land-based operators such as Aspers and The Rank Group”, adding that: “the gambling industry’s biggest companies have united for the first time to launch a new trade body that replaces the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) and the Remote Gambling Association (RGA)”. 

The Times article quotes the following extracts from Tom Watson’s letter:

A UK gambling licence should be a hallmark of credibility and trust. It should not be seen as an opportunity for operators to push the limits of their conditions and responsibilities. The regulator cannot be in a position where it is continually playing catch-up to an opaque and agile global industry. We need a structured response to the situation. This will require a total overhaul of our register of current remote sector licences.

This review would be an opportunity for existing remote licence-holders to reapply for the privilege of operating and marketing in the UK. It is essential that the government, working with the regulator, can reassess the financial probity of operators, the identity and character of their owners, the contributions they make to the research, education and treatment of problem gambling, the partnerships they have with our sports clubs, and any recent breaches of licence conditions.

A UK licence should not be used as a platform for offshore operators to use the reputation of British sport as a marketing tool for their own domestic audience, whereby the benefits of the UK market are enjoyed but nothing is given back to address the harm that is caused.

We await to see whether battle will commence and, if so, when.

UPDATE: We have reported here on (a) an article in Parliament’s magazine The House entitled “Tom Watson: Gambling companies should have to reapply for their licences and undergo proper scrutiny” that features the same argument that he presented in the above-mentioned letter and (b) the Labour Party’s subsequent call for a gambling ombudsman announced in a speech by Tom Watson to the think-tank Demos on 18 June 2019.