UK Gambling Bodies to Merge into Lobbying Supergroup NEWCO

Businessmen shaking hands

30-second summary

  • Remote Gambling Association and Association of British Bookmakers named in merger news
  • New industry body to be called NEWCO
  • Merger expected to be confirmed by end of February
  • Move is in response to tighter regulation
  • NEWCO will have major lobbying role

The UK’s two main gambling organizations, the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) and the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), are expected soon to confirm their intent to merge.

The new organization, which has the working title NEWCO, is likely to be confirmed by the end of this week.

Rumors of a merger

According to a report in the Guardian, the UK’s two main industry bodies for gambling, the Remote Gambling Association and the Association of British Bookmakers, are planning a merger. Formal confirmation is expected by March 1.

Rumors of a merger had been circulating for a while, according to industry insiders. The new organization is NEWCO, described as “the working title for a new industry body representing the gambling sector, replacing the Remote Gambling Association and the Association of British Bookmakers.”

Executive job search agency Ellwood Atfield has placed a job advertisement on its website for a chairperson to head NEWCO. They will “lead what will be the largest and most prominent organization representing the gambling industry. The chair will build and maintain trust in the gambling industry, both within the industry itself and with external stakeholders.

A year of scandals and controversy

2018 was a difficult year for the UK’s gambling sector. The government’s decision to cut the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) was welcomed. But it became mired in controversy over when to implement the cut because of the loss of revenues to the government. Gambling operators say they will close up to a third of betting shops, which account for much of their income from FOBTs. This will result in the loss of 5,000 jobs.

Betting companies agreed to voluntarily implement a whistle-to-whistle ban on TV advertising during live sports events before they were forced to. Campaigners are pushing for a total ban on all betting advertisements.

The UK Gambling Commission handed out record fines totaling £28m ($36.6m) for regulatory breaches. Other problems include reports of ethically dubious practices, the rising number of gambling addicts, and exposure of children to advertisements.

The UKGC is currently consulting on a wide range of gambling issues with a view to tightening regulation. The growth of online gambling apps for smartphones and tablets is one problem that is likely to be regulated.

Super-lobby role for NEWCO

In light of these issues, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the RGA and ABB are planning to merge. The job ad describes NEWCO as “the point of contact and a voice for the industry on all the issues of importance to regulators, legislators, key decision-makers, and the media.”

The successful candidate would have experience in “working with other issues-rich, highly regulated industries” and a “track record of working with organizations undergoing change and with an understanding of the dynamics of industry bodies.”

The lobbying role requires the chair to build “an established network within the national and international political and media arena, with experience of dealing with the media on politically sensitive topics.” Also desirable is “experience and a track record of successfully influencing the political and lobbying process within Westminster, Whitehall and ideally Brussels.”

A core responsibility is to “act as the industry’s advocate with key opinion formers at the most senior level across the Government, media and the wider industry.”

The advertisement concludes: “This is a rare opportunity to have a real impact in shaping and leading both an industry body and the industry itself.”

Ellwood Atfield is also advertising a CEO role for NEWCO, whose duties will include directing “the external communications strategy (including press relations for the new organization) along with leading and managing advocacy positions on issues in coordination with the members.”

Outgoing minister raised concerns

The minister for sports, Tracey Crouch, resigned in November 2018 over the delay in cutting FOBT stakes. Her resignation letter attacked “those with registered interests,” a reference to the gambling industry lobbying to delay or even prevent the move, which she had been instrumental in procuring.

She was reported to be “furious” that pro-gambling MP Philip Davies had held a private meeting with her boss, Jeremy Wright, the secretary for digital, culture, media, and sport. Davies reportedly used the meeting to secure the delay.

Prominent anti-gambling campaigner Matt Zarb-Cousin, of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, commented that the proposed merger showed that the gambling sector was aware of the need to clean up its act.

He said: “This illustrates how discredited the ABB, in particular, are with policymakers and with government, given the way they handled the issue of FOBTs and their failure to acknowledge any kind of problem, which has led to resistance to any meaningful compromise.”