Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings Taking “Personal Interest” in UK Gambling Act Reform, Say Insiders

  • Whitehall sources told The Guardian that Number 10 was “now steering the plans”
  • DCMS is expected to launch the review this fall, with widespread reforms likely
  • Peers for Gambling Reform group was set up Saturday, represented by over 150 peers
  • BGC said it was looking forward to working with government on the upcoming review
Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings look set to play leading roles in the review of the UK’s 2005 Gambling Act this fall, after sources inside Whitehall alleged No.10 is now steering the plans for reform. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Downing Street believed to have taken control

Sources within Whitehall have revealed Downing Street will lead the review of the UK’s 2005 Gambling Act, The Guardian reported on Sunday.

It states that Boris Johnson’s top advisor Dominic Cummings, along with director of the Number 10 policy unit Munira Mirza, “have both taken a personal interest in a push to overhaul the 2005 Gambling Act.”

Significant changes are expected to gambling legislation when the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), is expected to launch the Act’s review this fall. Well-placed sources, however, believe Johnson and his closest advisors are “now steering the plans”.

The PM just sees it as people being exploited and it’s not him”

“The PM just sees it as people being exploited and that’s just not him” alleged an unnamed MP within Whitehall. The Guardian tweeted the scoop yesterday, saying that Johnson and Cummings both want in on the action:

Fall showdown looms

Number 10’s allegedly wresting control of the legislation review comes as no surprise. As part of the Conservatives electoral manifesto ahead of its victory in the December 2019 vote, the Tories’ plans to review the gambling act were already clear. One of their goals was to “legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.”

Fast-forward to June 2020 and a scathing report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. In the report, MPs were heavily critical of the DCMS and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), saying they had an “unacceptably weak understanding” about the impact of gambling harm and how to tackle addiction.

This was compounded in July, after the House of Lords Committee published a 194-page report, urging a sweeping reform of gambling laws. It also called for a “more robust and focused regime” tabling over 66 recommendations.

Forces gathering

Based on the findings of the Lords report, a group called the Peers for Gambling Reform (PGR) was set up on Saturday. Chaired by Lord Foster of Bath, the group consists of over 150 peers. The PGR is agitating for many reforms, including affordability checks on bettors, legal consequences for firms not preventing gambling harms, stake limits, and a testing regime for new gambling products. Online wagering is also in the group’s crosshairs.

“Online gambling companies have cashed in on the pandemic, making more profit and putting more lives at risk” said Lord Foster. He went on to say the PGR was formed to ensure “urgent action is taken by the government to reform our wholly outdated regulation”.

As reform forces mass, the gambling industry is not planning to go down without a fight. The vast majority of the UK’s betting brands, retail casinos, and online gaming businesses are members of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). Chairing the BGC is seasoned powerbroker Brigid Simmonds, with former Labour MP Michael Dugher the organization’s CEO.

In response to the formation of the PGR, Dugher said that, as the new standards body, the BGC was “committed to driving big changes in the regulated betting and gaming industry.”

Dugher also pointed out the success of the whistle to whistle ban on TV betting ads, a move initiated by BCG members. He added that from October 1, robust new measures will be introduced to “further prevent under-18s from being able to see betting adverts.”

“We want to go further, however, and that is why we look forward to working with the Government on the forthcoming Gambling Review,” said Dugher.