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.

UPDATE: 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/).