Gambling Act Review White Paper rumours abound
An article in ‘The Times’ entitled ‘New curbs for online gambling ‘catastrophe’ as Premier League clubs escape sponsor ban’ (certain of which are repeated in a ‘Mail Online’ article entitled ‘Ministers are set to unveil new online gambling curbs in bid to stem addiction crisis’) purport to inform us of key proposals that will be contained within the Government’s Gambling Act Review White Paper, that is rumoured to be published within the next fortnight.
- a restriction on maximum stakes of between £2 and £5 for online casinos, it being suggested in The Times that these limits will be imposed “to create “parity” with the limits introduced on addictive gambling machines called fixed-odds betting terminals”
- a ban on operators targeting customers who lose significant amounts of money with free bets or bonuses
- removal of features from online games that increase the level of risk for customers, such as quick games in which customers can lose money faster, implying greater restrictions than those that came into force in October 2021 for online slots
- ‘non-intrusive’ affordability checks (which may possibly relate to further development of the ‘single customer view’ initiative), although it is suggested that “betting companies will be required to carry out financial checks on people if there is a risk that they are making unsustainable losses”
- new powers that will be given to the Gambling Commission as well as additional funding from an increase in fees paid by the industry (although it’s unclear whether reference to this fee increase is to that which took effect in October 2021 and April 2022 (as reported by us here a year ago) or to a yet further proposed increase
- introduction of a Gambling Ombudsman
- a relaxation of regulations for land-based casinos, allowing them to:
- install a maximum of 80 gaming machines rather than the present 20, and
- extend credit to ‘wealthy foreigners’.
Also mooted is the rejection of plans for:
- a mandatory RET levy on the gambling industry and
- a ban on shirt sponsorship by gambling companies of Premier League football clubs, it being suggested that “the government is hoping to reach a voluntary agreement with the clubs while keeping the option of legislation”.
The Times states that “the government estimates that online gambling revenues could fall by more than £700 million as a result of the restrictions”.
Time will tell, as Euripides is claimed to have famously said some time between 485BC and 406BC …. or was that just a rumour?
NOTE: Ahead of these rumours being published, the Betting and Gaming Council was quick off the mark to express concerns about the possibility of a ban on free bets, publishing the following on its website on 27 June 2022:
Banning free bets risks pushing almost a third of punters to the black market while sucking millions out of horse racing
A ban on promotions including so-called ‘free bets’ would push almost a third of punters to the black market while sucking millions out of horse racing, new data released today shows.
Anti-gambling campaigners have demanded the Government introduce a complete ban of punter promotions in its upcoming reforms of the Gambling Act – despite a staggering 69 per cent of customers saying they should be allowed.
New research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Betting and Gaming Council found as well as 69 per cent of punters saying free bets should be allowed, 63 per cent said they found promotions a valuable part of their hobby.
Worryingly almost one in three punters (28 per cent) said they would consider black market betting if ministers ignored their popularity and forced through a draconian ban.
As well as driving punters away from the regulated industry, analysis conducted by the BGC found the move would hit the horse racing Levy for approximately £5m a year, in a double blow on the industry.
Punters must request promotional offers when opening an account with a regulated betting and gaming operator in the UK and can stop receiving them at any point they choose.
Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, Michael Dugher, said:
“Promotions and offers are part of the customer experience for any vibrant industry, including our intensely competitive sector, which supports 119,000 jobs and brings in £4.4bn in taxes to the Treasury.
Blanket bans on offers would be anti-punter and would severely degrade that customer experience, punishing the overwhelming majority of punters who bet safely. Problem gambling is 0.2 per cent. Imagine the outcry if supermarkets were forced to ban offers and promotions for beer and wine? We see no difference to our industry.
A draconian ban would damage a sector which tens of thousands rely on for their livelihoods, by turning punters away from the regulated industry into the arms of unsafe, unregulated black market gambling, where the numbers using such sites has doubled in recent years and the amount bet is in the billions. These sites have none of the safer gambling tools the regulated industry employ.
A move like this would also hit the horse racing levy for £5m, but the loss of punters to the unregulated black market would undoubtedly also hit other regulated funding for racing such as media rights and sponsorship.
We support the Government’s ‘evidence-led’ approach to gambling reform, which is why any changes should be carefully targeted to protect vulnerable players and those at risk, not the vast majority who bet safely. Ministers should shouldn’t be sticking their nose into how people choose to spend their own money, and the last thing they should be doing at this time is damaging business and sport”.
Black Market gambling has more than doubled in just two years, from 220,000 users to 460,000 and the amount staked there is now in the billions of pounds.
Banning free bets is the latest proposal suggested by the anti-gambling lobby that could hit horse racing revenues after blanket affordability checks.
These means tests, which would compel punters to produce personal financial records like bank statements before they are allowed to bet as little as £100 a month, could suck up to £100m a year out of horse racing, according to industry experts.
In total, the regulated betting and gaming industry contributes around £350m annually to horse racing in the UK through the levy, media rights and sponsorship. This funding was vital during the pandemic.
But there are growing concerns new measures being considered by the Government could jeopardise this vital funding.
1. No sooner had the above rumours done the rounds than a Guardian article entitled ‘Plans to ban gambling firms sponsoring football shirts in disarray after Tory rift’ reported as follows:
Ministers’ plans for reforming Britain’s gambling laws were in disarray on Wednesday as a rift emerged at the top of the Conservative party over whether to ban football shirt sponsorship and impose a levy to fund addiction services. Multiple sources said the process of putting the finishing touches to a white paper on gambling reform had driven a wedge between departments and senior MPs, with the publication deadline just weeks away.
Sources familiar with the draft proposals insisted both changes could still go ahead, adding that discussions with Premier League teams about sponsorship were “ongoing” and that the levy could survive, albeit limited to online firms rather than bricks-and-mortar casinos and bookmakers.
However, final decisions are subject to frantic last-ditch lobbying from senior Tories, ahead of the white paper being published in mid-July. “The Treasury is opposed to those two elements,” said one MP with knowledge of the unfolding row.
2. On 7 July 2022 (the same day that the Gambling Minister, Chris Philp MP, announced his resignation very shortly before Boris Johnson announced his resignation as leader of the Conservative party, in the process throwing into doubt timing of publication of the White Paper – as reported by us here), The Times published an article entitled ‘Small casinos to lose out on reforms’ in which it claimed that “more than half of Britain’s casinos will miss out on plans to increase the cap on the number of gaming machines they can operate because they are too small”. It maintained that Britain’s land-based casino sector had been led to understand that the White Paper would propose that the present limit of 20 machines applicable to former 1968 Gaming Act casinos would be increased to 80. However, it stated that: “a section of the White Paper seen by The Times limits the fourfold increase to larger premises, excluding about 70 of the UK’s 121 casinos from the rule relaxation, making them less competitive”.