Significant developments since the 7 July 2022 resignation of the Gambling Minister Chris Philp MP (very shortly before Boris Johnson resigned as leader of the Conservative Party) have thrown considerable doubt over the future course of the Gambling Act Review White Paper.
1. During the early part of the morning on 7 July, Philp confirmed in his resignation letter that: “The Gambling Review is with No. 10 at the moment for final approval, containing strong measures to protect people from the ravages of gambling addiction. I have met with the families of those who have committed suicide as a result of gambling addiction, and I strongly urge you to deliver the review in full and undiluted”.
2. On that same day:
- a short debate on the ‘Gambling Review White Paper’ took place, incorporating the following Qs&As:
Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
Q: When she plans to publish the Gambling Review White Paper.
Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
Q: What her time-scale is for publishing a Gambling Review White Paper.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
A: I know that both Members have taken an active involvement in this issue and, like all the House, are looking forward to seeing the outcomes of our Gambling Act 2005 review. It remains a priority for the Department, and we will publish a White Paper setting out conclusions and a vision for the sector in the coming weeks.
Q: We know that the Department has considered gambling-related harm to be a public health issue and preventing harm is an essential objective of gambling regulations, so may I gently press the Minister to confirm whether key public health-based reforms, such as a smart statutory levy, the introduction of online stake limits, an effective affordability assessment and controls on gambling advertising, will be included in the forthcoming White Paper?
A: I know how passionately and seriously the hon. Gentleman takes this issue, as do we on this side of the Chamber. That is why the review was comprehensive and covered many, if not all, of those areas that he mentioned. I ask him to be slightly patient, because we will be responding to the review in due course.
Q: Many countries are ahead of the UK in regulating loot boxes and video games and require games to display the odds of receiving certain loot in the box items. It is essential to ensure that we are not subjecting players to blind gambling, yet Diablo Immortal’s “rift” feature finds a loophole apparently in this, and is essentially a loot box that is contingent on skill-based gameplay. The skill-based element means it is not technically gambling and does not have to display odds, but it is a loot box. Will the Minister commit to exploring in the gambling review how to close that loophole, and will the Department meet with the game developer Blizzard to discuss how to close the loophole in Diablo Immortal?
A: Again, this is a topic that has consumed the attention of the whole House. The gambling review was looked at separately from the specific issue of loot boxes, where we recognise there are also issues and concerns, and we have been conducting a review. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that protecting children, both on loot boxes and in the gambling review, is front and centre of our thoughts.
Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
Q: It is not just children who can be impacted by loot boxes and other gambling mechanics; it is also people with other vulnerabilities. It is critical that the Government take effective steps to close loopholes, and do not just bake in the problem for ever more creative tech companies to exploit.
A: My right hon. Friend makes an important point about ensuring that the review we conduct and the conclusions that come out of it are comprehensive, but it is important, as technology evolves and changes, and becomes ever more sophisticated—as it does, particularly in the online gambling and gaming space—that we keep a close eye on developments, and we will be doing that going forward.
Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)
Q: I thank the ministerial team for their continued good work. Specifically on fixed odds betting terminals, would it not be a pragmatic and sensible consideration to display the average return rate for five seconds at the beginning of play, so that users can make an informed decision to weigh up enjoyment against the likely returns?
A: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The White Paper will be looking at those issues, and the Gambling Commission of course looks at those kind of issues on an ongoing basis. He raises important points about targeting, in particular of the most vulnerable in society, and it is something of which we are very aware.
Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
Q: One could be forgiven for failing to notice a news article yesterday regarding No. 10 policy advisers who have links to gambling companies. It would be unforgiveable, however, if either of those advisers had attempted to influence the White Paper in a way that could be considered to favour the industry. Can the Minister assure the House that that is not the case?
A: I appreciate the hon. Lady’s passion and commitment on the subject; we have had many conversations. She will be aware that we have engaged extensively with stakeholders in the course of the gambling review.
Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Q: When the Government publish the White Paper, which I very much look forward to, will they ensure that it makes it clear who will be responsible for the issue of affordability—the Government or the Gambling Commission?
A: Again, I cannot pre-empt the conclusions of the review, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. The Secretary of State in particular is aware of that and we will be communicating more in due course. Affordability is an important point.
I call the shadow Secretary of State.
Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
Q: I am not at all surprised to see the Secretary of State still in her place; I had no doubt that she would be the last woman standing in support of the Prime Minister while all around her collapses, including her ministerial team. I wondered whether, by this morning, she would hold not only all the ministerial offices in her Department but several other Cabinet posts as well. For many months, we have heard that the gambling White Paper is imminent. It has still not been published, although its content has again been trailed to the news-papers. Apparently, Ministers are dropping the gambling levy, which has widespread support, and other measures that would bring the analogue gambling regulation into the digital age. Is that true?
Q: Well, we now know from the former gambling Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), that the White Paper is with No. 10 for sign-off—good luck with that. We have also been promised the media Bill, a White Paper on football regulation, a review of women’s football, a review on the future funding of the BBC, and a data Bill—all before the summer recess. How is that going? The truth is that we have chaos, paralysis and a total collapse of Government, with huge swathes of vacant ministerial posts and parliamentary business on hold. Is it not the reality that not just the Prime Minister has lost the country’s trust, but the entire Conservative party?
A: This is about the gambling review, and the question should be about that. The Minister should answer on the gambling review.
Q: I hope the hon. Lady will wait to respond to the gambling review. I appreciate her giving a comprehensive list of all the policy areas and manifesto commitments on which the Government are committed to delivering. She could have gone further and mentioned safe standing, the delivery of the Commonwealth games, which start in three weeks’ time, or the Euros — well done to the Lionesses for last night. I thank her for giving a list of the Government’s achievements.
I also do not want the Minister to wander off topic. Let us go to someone who will put us back on track—John Nicolson, the SNP spokesperson.
John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
Q: In what could be our last exchange across the Dispatch Box, I recognise that the Secretary of State cannot bind the hands of her successor, but as we move away from post-truth politics and culture wars, perhaps she can leave doing some good. The lottery is the country’s principal gambling addiction. For most, it is innocent fun; for some, it is a problem—an affliction. The now resigned tech and digital Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), confirmed to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week that tickets can be charged perfectly legally to credit cards, building up huge debts. When Camelot is replaced, can that be reformed?
A: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the final part of his comments and for drawing attention to the fact that we constantly review the lottery. We have made significant changes over time, such as to the age limit for who can play it. As he is aware, people can use a credit card if the ticket is bought with other shopping. That is the norm in many other countries, but we constantly review those exact areas.
- Damian Collins MP was appointed a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it subsequently being confirmed that, in that capacity, he has taken over the responsibilities previously held by Philp as Gambling Minister.
3. On 13 July, the most detailed leak yet of proposals within the ‘first draft’ of the White Paper was contained in an Earnings+More’ article entitled ‘Exclusive: Leaked UK White Paper details, although it should be noted that the article commented that “according to sources, the government and the Gambling Commission are still in talks over much of the detail of the White Paper”. Subject to that comment, our interpretation of what was said in that article with regard to government proposals contained within the first draft of the White Paper is as follows:
- a requirement for ‘passive’ automatic background affordability assessments “which customers will not even notice” to check for financial vulnerability indicators (e.g. County Court judgment register checks) where a net loss of £125 within a month or £500 within a year is incurred; further information in this respect can be expected in a Gambling Commission on financial vulnerability, announced by the Commission’s Executive Director Tim Miller as long ago as 7 September 2021 at the KnowNow Annual Conference, chaired by David Clifton
- requirements for ‘largely frictionless’ affordability assessment (to be conducted via credit agencies or other means “such as open banking in the first instance”) where a net loss of £1,000 within 24 hours or £2,000 within 90 days is incurred, on the basis that further information from customers would only be requested where necessary to complete an assessment, in which circumstances “the use of any data gathered through such checks will be restricted to assessing affordability and indicators of financial distress”; however, a lower threshold would apply for new accounts, i.e. where, during the first month from an account being opened, a net loss of £500 within 24 hours is incurred
- presumably with the ‘single customer view’ initiative in mind, once a “suitable and secure platform” is in place, the Gambling Commission will consult on making data sharing for high-risk customers mandatory for remote operators
- the government and the Gambling Commission will “explore the possibility of deposit limits becoming mandatory online”, although the ‘Earnings+More’ article reports that the draft White Paper documents states: “We are clear it is not the government’s, the Gaming Commission’s or industry’s place to examine every facet of (the) individual’s finances and make value judgments about what and what isn’t affordable”
(b) ‘Smart stake’ limits
- introduction of a ‘smart stake’ limit of between £2 and £5 for online slots, with the final determination being subject to a DCMS consultation this autumn
- this would be on the basis that “the minority of customers” who wish to stake more (up to a limit of between £10 and £25 per spin) would need to pass enhanced checks
- imposing stake limits on non-slot gaming or betting products is not supported by evidence
(c) Free bets and bonuses
- a consultation on a ban on online VIP schemes will take place
- this will cover both (a) bonuses such as free bets based on a customer’s spend or losses and (b) maximum wagering requirements and minimum time limits
(d) Land-based casinos
- where casinos holding converted casino premises licences (i.e. casino premises licences originally granted under the Gaming Act 1968) that meet the requirements applicable to small Gambling Act 2005 casinos, they will be eligible for the same 80 gaming machines entitlement that applies to small casinos (although it is estimated that only about 70 former 1968 Act casinos would have such eligibility)
- sports betting facilities may be made available; the ‘Earnings+More’ article states “it is not clear whether that is all casinos or just the 2005 Act versions”; however, because both small and large 2005 Act casinos are already entitled to provide such betting facilities, it would seem to us that the proposal is that former 1968 Act casinos holding converted casino premises licences would also be able to do so
- ‘Mayfair casinos’ will be permitted to offer credit to international visitors who have “undergone stringent checks”; clarity would be required in this respect as to which existing casinos would fall within the definition of ‘Mayfair casinos’
- in addition, it is suggested that the government:
- “is sympathetic to” the introduction within ‘Mayfair casinos’ of gaming machines with higher stake limits (£50 stake, £100,000 maximum winnings) for Mayfair casinos, but
- is “not convinced” that enough customer protection can be put in place for “full account play” as with online.
(e) Other measures
- the government is “not persuaded by arguments for online affiliates to be licensed”
- the Gambling Commission will have new powers to (a) set its own fees and (b) require (and analyse) bulk data from online operators to identify non-compliance
- no change will occur in relation to current ‘white label’ arrangements because “the risks posed to consumers are not fundamental to white-label arrangements themselves”, which we take to mean that under such arrangements the operating licence holder remains responsible for the actions of third parties with whom they contract for the provision of any aspect of their business related to the licensed activities (pursuant to LCCP Social Responsibility Code provision 1.1.2)
- the above-mentioned DCMS consultation in the autumn will consult on introduction of an Ombudsman scheme to handle, adjudicate and (where appropriate) order redress for any gambling complaints that are not satisfactorily resolved by the operator
- research, prevention and treatment (‘RET’) funding will be paid directly to the Gambling Commission under the “strategic direction” of the DCMS; the RET payment for online operators will be at the rate of 1% of gross gambling yield
4. Yesterday, 14 July:
- Tom Witherow, investigative journalist at the Daily Mail, tweeted as follows:
Breaking: The gambling white paper has been delayed until a new Prime Minister takes office. No 10 feel it is inappropriate to ‘bind’ the new administration, sources said. This is the FOURTH delay after COVID, a change of ministers, and finally internal battles in No 10
- in an article entitled ‘Dismay as UK gambling reform white paper shelved for fourth time’, The Guardian reported that:
Proposals to reform gambling laws have been postponed for a fourth time amid turmoil at top of the Conservative party, sparking outrage from campaigners who warned the delay would cost lives.
- the Racing Post suggested (in its article ‘White paper could be delayed until new prime minister takes office’) that there “remains a chance that the decision could be reversed”, adding:
Asked what the latest state of play was, a spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are undertaking the most comprehensive review of gambling laws in 15 years to ensure they are fit for the digital age. “As we have said all along, we will be publishing a white paper as part of a review of gambling legislation and are planning to do so as soon as possible.”
5. This was followed (also yesterday, 14 July) by a politicshome.com article by Jack Brereton, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent South (the city in which bet365 is based), entitled “Now is not the time to push ahead with the Gambling White Paper”, stating:
With reform to the betting and gaming industry having the potential to impact the lives of millions in this country, we need to give it the attention it deserves.
Politics on the national stage is always a high-octane drama, and the last few weeks have certainly lived up to that billing. Against the backdrop of a Prime Ministerial resignation and new leadership contest, the Government has wisely committed to not announcing any new legislation or new policy in the coming weeks. However, one exception appears to be the Gambling White Paper, with some still calling it for it to be published.
To rush this now would be a mistake. There are very significant legislative changes and large number of new policy proposals to betting and gaming which should give Ministers pause for thought.
Every month some 22.5 million adults have a wager, whether that’s on horse racing, playing the lottery, bingo or casino games, or having a bet on the football and other sports. It is of course true that the industry should remain current, but we must get this right. Reforms to the betting and gaming industry will impact a hobby that people enjoy, thousands of people employed in the industry and the financial future of the many British sports that depend on this industry. And if it’s a priority for them – it should be a priority for the Government.
It’s very easy to hold lazy stereotypes about the regulated betting and gaming industry. But as a Stoke-on-Trent MP, I am fortunate to see first-hand the contribution this sector is making right now as a leisure industry that is part of the cultural fabric of this country.
Stoke-on-Trent is renowned for its entrepreneurial spirit, industrial staples like ceramics are increasingly sitting alongside new age tech and games design. Tech firms like bet365, in Stoke-on-Trent, are world leaders in their field, supporting thousands of high-skill jobs in the region.
In Stoke-on-Trent alone, betting and gaming employs around 4,500 people and contributes £390 million to the local economy. As well as bet365, the West Midlands is home to betting and gaming firms providing high tech jobs, like Inspired Gaming, Gamesys and Intouch gaming among others, employing and investing outside the capital and big cities. This isn’t a party-political slogan – this is genuine real world levelling up in action, providing vital skilled employment.
The regulated betting and gaming industry isn’t just building tech power houses in places like Stoke-on-Trent, it is playing a vital part in the hospitality and tourism sector through casinos and on our hard-pressed high streets thanks to bookies. Combined, those endeavours support 119,000 jobs, contribute £7.7bn to the UK economy, while generating £4.5bn for the Treasury.
Of course, I don’t support growth at any cost; it has to be sustainable and responsible. Betting firms must stay the course when it comes to tackling problem gambling and many like bet365 are leading in the industry when it comes to best practice reforms.
Problem gambling rates in the UK are amongst the lowest in Europe and continue to fall, now standing at 0.2%, according to the independent industry regulator. That doesn’t mean there’s room for complacency. But betting firms do deserve credit for the millions of pounds they have invested in tackling problem gambling through research, education and treatment (RET) provision. The promise of a further £100 million uplift from some of the industry’s biggest operators, including bet365, is a sign that the industry really does take this issue seriously.
This crucial issue affecting millions, must never become a sideshow
If reports on the White Paper are to be believed, ministers have decided against calls for a Statutory Levy, essentially a new tax, to replace this voluntary mechanism which currently funds a third sector providing over 90 per cent of the treatment and prevention work to tackle problem gambling in the UK. This is welcome, the current system works and it doesn’t need a new arrangement.
But other reports are more concerning. Punters were promised targeted affordability checks to prevent those losing ‘thousands’, but it is suggested those checks could be applied at a far lower point, compelling weekend punters to provide private financial details to prove they can afford to bet. Instead of protecting punters, this could push them to an increasingly predatory unregulated black-market, where the numbers of customers has swelled to the hundreds of thousands and the amount bet is now in the billions.
Meanwhile, it is feared a relaxation of regulations for bricks and mortar casinos, allowing them to compete with online operators by lifting the cap on electronic slots, will be denied to around 70 of the UK’s 121 casinos, because they are deemed too small.
The Government promised to protect punters and Level Up, neither of these suggestions match that ambition. If that is the case, then as with all other big decisions for Government we should pause the White Paper until we have a new PM and a new cabinet. Important policies impacting the lives of millions cannot be rushed through haphazardly.
The Government has a choice in the coming weeks. Whatever twists and turns come in the storyline of Britain’s political life, this crucial issue affecting millions, must never become a sideshow. Betting and Gaming, its customers and all those who work in the industry deserve better.
6. Also yesterday, iGB Affiliate reported that a spokesperson for industry body Responsible Affiliates in Gambling (‘RAiG’), that had in June 2020 announced its support in principle for a licensing regime for affiliates (as reported by us here), had commented as follows on its exclusion from the previous day’s list of leaked proposals within the ‘first draft’ of the White Paper:
RAiG believes that the best way to raise standards across the gambling affiliate sector and improve safeguards for consumers is for affiliates to be licensed by the Gambling Commission. Despite engaging with HM Government on this over the last 18 months we’ve expected that this would not form part of the Gambling Act review. In the absence of this being taken forward as part of the review, we’re already engaged with the wider gambling ecosystem on initiatives to drive improvements in the sector.
7. Today (15 July), contrary views were expressed in an article in The Mail+ (entitled ‘Anger as betting reforms delayed for a fourth time’), that quotes:
- the former Gambling Minister Chris Philp as saying:
Reform is urgent. Every day that goes by is a missed opportunity, and puts more people at risk. There wasn’t a single day that I went into the department when I didn’t think about people losing their lives to gambling-related suicide. I’m gutted there’s further delay, and strongly urge the new government to make it a priority at the beginning of September.’
- Labour MP Carolyn Harris, Chair of the Gambling Related Harm APPG, as saying:
This is an appalling decision and I’m bitterly disappointed. This life-saving reform is urgently needed to rein in the Wild West industry and prevent thousands of families from falling into destitution.’
- Will Prochaska, Chief Executive of ‘Gambling with Lives’, that represents families bereaved by gambling suicide, as saying:
Tens of thousands more people will be harmed and some will die as a result of this inexcusable delay.
- The Centre for Labour and Social Studies think-tank as saying:
Online gambling is a public health emergency. There is simply no excuse for this inaction.
8. Also on 15 July, the following statement issued by GambleAware Chief Executive, Zoë Osmond, expressed deep concern about the reported delay in publication of the White Paper:
We are deeply concerned by the risk of further delays to the gambling White Paper. Failure to act now puts more people at risk of gambling harms and only exacerbates what is an increasingly serious public health issue. We are concerned that the combination of the growing cost of living, ongoing impact of the pandemic and rise of online gambling may be creating a perfect storm, meaning more people are at risk of suffering gambling harm.
We, and other third sector organisations need a committed and consistent approach to funding. This would ensure future certainty and stability to provide support and treatment, prevent further gambling harm and make more people aware of the risks of gambling.
1. On 17 July 2022, the Government announced that loot boxes will NOT be brought within the scope of UK gambling regulation. For the circumstances giving rise to this announcement, read our website posting here.
2. David Clifton’s current ‘Licensing Expert’ article for SBC News (published on 18 July 2022 and entitled ‘Change will come eventually’) looks back over the drama of recent weeks’ events that have led us to believe that publication of the long-awaited Gambling Act Review White Paper looks likely to be further delayed until after a new Prime Minister takes over the baton from Boris Johnson on 5 September. Given the likelihood of such a delay and the recent admission by the Gambling Commission’s CEO, Andrew Rhodes, that “the issues around affordability checks are something for the White Paper“ (as previously reported by us here), David’s article also focuses on the urgent need for considerably greater clarity on that subject-matter from the Commission in relation to its precise expectations of UK licensed gambling operators (both remote and land-based) in this respect.
3. Also on 18 July, an article in The Times entitled ‘Voluntary ban on betting shirt sponsors to be agreed by Premier League clubs’ has said that a Premier League shareholders’ meeting next week will discuss a proposal to agree to a voluntary ban on shirt sponsorship by betting companies, this being an item not included in the list of leaked proposals within the ‘first draft’ of the White Paper. You can read more on this same subject here.
4. On 22 July, a politicshome.com article by Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council, entitled ‘After the delay on gambling reform, new ministers should seek to find consensus and get things done quickly’ was published. With publication presumably delayed until Parliament had risen for the summer recess on 21 July to guard against any last minute surprise arrival of the White Paper, it reads as follows: