Rumours abound that Gambling Act Review White Paper may face the guillotine
In an article entitled ‘Raft of legislation for the chop amid focus on growth over regulation’, the Guardian’s Chief Political Correspondent has reported that new Cabinet ministers recently appointed by UK Prime Minister Liz Truss “have already taken the axe to a list of forthcoming legislation – and the guillotine is hovering above others”. Included within the category of ‘others’ is gambling reform, with one minister commenting: “There are so many things that have to be done, it squeezes how much genuine flexibility we might have.”
The article goes on to state:
The gambling reform white paper was delayed again over the summer and would fit the mould of the kind of regulatory reform that Truss is keen to avoid burdening businesses with. It would be likely to cause an outcry, however. The new chief secretary to the Treasury, Chris Philp, is a champion of the reforms and made them a key part of his resignation letter during the mass walkouts over Boris Johnson’s behaviour ….. Cabinet sources emphasise that everything is up for review – and nothing is guaranteed to be safe. “Anything that puts additional burdens on business or seems like unnecessary interference in people’s lives during a time of crisis is in our sights,” one said.
If the prediction within the Guardian article is correct, some sectors within the industry might believe the demise of the Government’s Gambling Act Review White Paper would constitute good news. However, reporting on this subject under the heading ‘Rumour Truss will scrap gambling review may be bad news, analyst warns’, iGaming Business has indicated that Dan Waugh of Regulus Partners takes a different view. He is quoted as saying:
It is a question of whether the process of review itself is a distraction, or simply that there isn’t sufficient parliamentary time to implement the outcomes. Given everything that is going on in the world, one could make a legitimate case for the latter – but we have surely come too far to turn back on publishing the findings and policy implications of the review.
I would hope that after all the efforts that have gone into this, especially from the DCMS, that at the very least they publish what they have learned. Otherwise, it will have been a catastrophic waste of time and resources that leaves unaddressed a number of legitimate concerns.
If the gambling review were chopped that could be worst outcome for the industry and consumers. This is because of the risk that the Gambling Commission might then seek to exploit the situation by imposing its own agenda without the benefit of public and parliamentary scrutiny and due process.
We are inclined to agree with Dan’s comments. If the White Paper never sees the light of day:
- the remote gambling sector may well find that the Commission goes ahead with its own agenda along the lines set out above (with the consequences that, as Dan suggests, abandoning the gambling reform project at this stage may be worse for the sector than going ahead) and
- the land-based casino sector may have a to wait a long time further before it stands a chance of receiving some much-needed adjustment to gaming machine entitlements and other overdue regulatory changes.
1. An interesting opinion piece by Regulus Partners (in their ‘Winning Post’ newsletter) entitled ‘UK: In Parliament – Are reports of the demise of the Gambling Act Review Greatly Exaggerated?’ was published on 25 September 2022. It reads as follows:
UK: In Parliament – Are reports of the demise of the Gambling Act Review Greatly Exaggerated?
Outrage was – once again – all the rage in the public policy debate on gambling reform this week. If recent reports are to be believed, the once-in-a-generation legislative review, announced in late 2019 and launched a year later, is to be jettisoned as Liz Truss’s fledgling administration struggles to gain height ahead of a General Election that must come in the next two years.
Only the most blinkered of anti or pro-gambling advocates would argue that re-regulation of gaming and betting should be a priority for the new Prime Minister. With war raging in Eastern Europe and a major economic crisis unfolding closer to home, it is easy to see why the Government might wish to unburden itself of highly divisive, evidentially unclear and relatively minor (from an economic standpoint) matters of State. At the same time, it would be perverse if the process of legislative review was simply to vanish nearly three years after it was first announced. Substantial time and resource has been poured into the review by a wide array of stakeholders (including state agencies, spending substantial amounts of tax-payer money). Officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (‘DCMS’), which is leading the review, must feel that they have learned some lessons from the review. The availability of parliamentary time and Government energy to push through legislative reform may be limited – but at the very least we might expect a re-statement or rearticulation of policy in this area.
This is critical precisely because there is so much confusion at present over what the official policy on gambling (let alone the detailed rules) in Great Britain is. At the launch of the review, the DCMS made it clear that it would be a process in reassessment and recalibration – to ensure that Britain’s laws remained “fit for the digital age”. It explicitly referred to the need – that runs through the heart of the Gambling Act 2005 – to balance consumer protection with consumer freedom. The Department for Health and Social Care (‘DHSC’) on the other hand sees things differently. It perceives gambling to be the ‘new tobacco’ – an activity that is inherently harmful and therefore not a policy area that requires balance. The Gambling Commission has been led down this latter path. It considers all of the consumers it has been appointed to serve as ‘vulnerable’ (a very different interpretation to that intended by the Act) or victims-in-waiting rather than as autonomous agents. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the regulator now believes the very act of spending money on gambling or experiencing any form of regret (an emotion, in its softest sense, inextricable from wagering) to be ‘harms’. In the absence of an explicit statement from the Government regarding the purpose of legislation and regulation, it is likely that the market regulator will continue to prosecute its own private agenda via revisions to the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice.
If the DCMS was to drop its review entirely then the ground may be left clear for the DHSC and the Commission (who have both acted with questionable probity during this review) to take betting and gaming down the Tobacco Road. We consider it unlikely that the Government will abandon its review entirely – although it may well be deprioritised. Rumours of its demise may well have been placed simply in order to stimulate performative pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth. Meanwhile, we are left to wonder at those who demand publication of the draft White Paper in full. Given that most of these parties cannot (lawfully) have seen the document, how on earth do they know what reforms they are supporting or what the consequences of non-implementation would be?
You can read our Cieo article on misinformation and regulatory cover-ups in the Gambling Act Review at www.cieo.org.uk/research/game-of-chancers/).
2. The speech delivered the Conservative Party Conference on 3 October 2022 by DCMS Secretary of State, Michelle Donellan (that you can download below), notably made no reference to the Gambling Review White Paper or indeed to the issue of gambling generally. If any clue of potential relevance in that context was contained in her speech, it was in her following words: “I am an evidence-based politician and over the coming months you will see that I am not afraid to make tough decisions, and will stick to our conservative principles to make people’s lives better and fairer”.
Of importance for the gambling sector were her following comments on the UK Government’s plan to replace GDPR with its own “business and consumer-friendly, British data protection system”:
…. there remains a significant amount of red tape in our way, red tape that, as a newly independent nation free of EU bureaucracy, we can tailor to fit our country’s needs. One example of this is on data.
We inherited GDPR from the EU, and its bureaucratic nature is still limiting the potential of our businesses. So much so that researchers at Oxford University estimated that it has directly caused businesses to lose over 8% of their profits. In a survey by my Department, 50% of businesses told us that the EU’s mainly one-size-fits-all GDPR scheme, had led to excessive caution amongst staff in the handling of data. We’ve even had churches write to the department, pleading for us to do something, so that they can send newsletters out to their communities without worrying about breaching data rules.
Many of these smaller organisations and businesses only employ a few people each. They don’t have the resources or money to navigate the regulatory minefield that GDPR puts in their way. And yet right now, in the main, they’re forced to follow the same one-size-fits-all approach as a multinational corporation. That’s just not right, and it is certainly not conservative.
That is why today Conference, I am announcing that we will be replacing GDPR with our own business and consumer-friendly, British data protection system. Our plan will protect consumer privacy and keep their data safe, whilst retaining our data adequacy so businesses can trade freely. And I can promise you here today, Conference, that it will be simpler and clearer for businesses to navigate.
No longer will our businesses be shackled by unnecessary red tape. At the moment, even though we have shortages of electricians and plumbers, GDPR ties them in knots with clunky bureaucracy. In its place, we will co-design with business a new system of data protection. We will look to those countries who achieve data adequacy without having GDPR, like Israel, Japan, South Korea, Canada and New Zealand.
Our new data protection plan will focus on growth and common sense, helping to prevent losses from cyber attacks and data breaches, while protecting data privacy. This will allow us to reduce the needless regulations and business-stifling elements, while taking the best bits from others around the world to form a truly bespoke, British system of data protection.
Let me be clear, Conference, this is not another wave of legislation on business. Businesses won’t have to wrap their heads around complicated legislation – this is about simplification. In fact, it is this government seizing the opportunity to support our job creators. And I will be involving them right from the start in the design of a tailored, business-friendly British system of data protection. One that, protects the consumer, protects data adequacy and increases the trade that good data protection enables, whilst increasing productivity and also avoids the pitfalls of a one-size-fits-all system. It is time we seize this post Brexit opportunity fully, and unleash the full growth potential of British business. We can be the bridge across the Atlantic and operate as the world’s data hub.
Interesting commentary on this development can be found in an iGB article entitled ‘UK GDPR Reform “unlikely” to affect affordability checks’, published on 4 October.
3. Speaking at a side meeting during the Conservative Party Conference on 4 October 2022, former Conservative leader (and current Gambling Related Harm APPG Vice Chair) Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP described the long-awaited Gambling Review White Paper as still being a “work in progress” by reason of the UK Government “dragging its feet”, adding that it is “not altogether certain where the government is right now” because of the change of prime minister and changes in government ministers.
He is quoted in the Racing Post as saying:
It’s going to be one of those things where the government will have to balance the time they have for doing it and whether or not they’re driven to do it for the right reasons, and that’s really a game of persuasion I guess.
Don’t assume for a second this is a retraction. It’s not, it’s in exactly the same place as it was before. The problem is that names have all changed and people who therefore knew something about it are no longer in the posts that they were, so that’s the problem.
It’s a case of re-education and getting people to understand what they are sitting on and why it’s necessary. So that may take a little bit more time. But as I say nobody has come out with an absolute ‘no, this should not go through’.
The above is also reported in the SBC News 5 October 2022 article entitled ‘Iain Duncan Smith: Government ‘not entirely certain’ on Gambling Review’.
4. On 12 October 2022, iGB has reported in an article entitled ‘Gambling Act white paper back on track for publication in next few weeks’:
Last week, a report in the Daily Mail claimed the review may be pushed back until 2023, citing comments from DCMS minister Michelle Donelan. Meanwhile, this week Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher – speaking at an industry event – said he expected the review this year, but offered a timeline of publication “by Christmas”.
However, iGB understands that the planned publication date of the Gambling Act white paper is significantly sooner than either of those options, with the release instead expected in the coming weeks. A source with knowledge of the situation also noted that the report of a delay until 2023 was “misleading”.
An updated version of the Daily Mail article, published on Mail Online (to which the iGB article above provides a link) appears to accord with iGB’s article stating:
A source close to Miss Donelan said ‘the expectation [is] it will be published in the coming weeks.
5. Shortly after it was confirmed that Michelle Donelan would remain the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport under the new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, Paul Scully was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on 27 October 2022, replacing Damian Collins MP in that role and, in that process, becoming the sixth minister responsible for gambling policy since the UK Government’s Gambling Act 2005 Review was first announced in December 2019. His appointment was welcomed by the Betting and Gaming Council, which stated as follows on its website:
BGC WELCOME PAUL SCULLY MP AS NEW GAMBLING MINISTER
Standards body the Betting and Gaming Council has congratulated Paul Scully MP on his appointment as Minister responsible for the betting and gaming industry.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher also congratulated Michelle Donelan MP on her re-appointment to the Cabinet and encouraged both to continue engagement with the industry to find the right balance in the upcoming Gambling Review.
Mr Dugher also paid tribute to outgoing Gambling Minister, Damian Collins MP, who had been leading the Gambling Review and who has now returned to the backbenches.
Paul Scully was previously a Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up and will also continue in his role as Minister for London.
The Betting and Gaming Council was established in 2019 and represents over 90 per cent of retail betting shops, online betting and gaming operators, casinos and bingo operators. As the single industry body, we work with our members, large and small, to raise standards, create a culture of safer gambling and build public and institutional trust in our world class industry.
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.
We are encouraged by the latest figures from the Gambling Commission which shows the rate of problem gambling among adults in the UK remains low by international standards at 0.3 per cent, down from 0.4 the year previous.
Michael Dugher said:
“On behalf of the 119,000 people whose jobs are supported by our members – from the high street to hospitality, from tourism to world-leading British tech – I’d like to congratulate both Paul Scully MP on his new role and Michelle Donelan MP on her re-appointment as Secretary of State for DCMS. Our industry generates £4.5bn in taxes for the Treasury and contributes £7.7bn for the economy in gross value added.
We are ready to work with DCMS to help find carefully targeted, proportionate measures which achieve the right balance. We want to continue to drive big changes and drive higher standards on safer gambling to better protect the most vulnerable, whilst at the same time ensuring that the 22.5 million punters who enjoy a flutter each month, perfectly safely and responsibly, have the freedom to do so.
I’d also like to pay tribute to Damian Collins MP, the widely respected outgoing minister who was leading on the Review, for his willingness to engage with the industry and understand the contribution we make to the economy.”