What Paul Scully’s Speech Revealed About the UK Gambling Act White Paper

  • UK Gambling Minister Paul Scully said his team is putting finishing touches to the white paper
  • In a speech to the Betting and Gaming Council, he revealed details on affordability checks
  • They remain a divisive measure, with some considering them a patronizing threat to profitability
  • Scully said that instead of ‘affordability checks’ they will be known as ‘financial risk assessments’
Paul Scully
UK Gambling Minister Paul Scully (pictured) has given a speech to the Betting and Gaming Council revealing some details about the upcoming white paper on the Gambling Act 2005. [Image: UK Government Website]

Just weeks away

The UK government’s long-awaited Gambling Act review is almost here. According to Gambling Minister Paul Scully, his team are “putting the finishing touches” to the white paper. “We’re a matter of weeks away from you all seeing it, and then we can start the process of nailing down details and implementing reforms,” he affirmed.

the white paper is almost ready

Scully made the announcement in a speech given to the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) at its annual general meeting on Thursday last week. Although the white paper is almost ready, the minister was not keen to give too much away about the paper’s contents.

What he was able to tell the BGC was mostly about the issue of affordability checks, which have proven a divisive issue in the gambling industry.

Affordability checks controversy

In the UK, the idea of an affordability check was borrowed from the banking sector where mortgage brokers needed proof that customers would be able to pay up when the pounds, shillings, and pence came due.

They work in a similar way within the gambling sector. If a player bets and/or loses too much, too fast in a set amount of time, the gaming operator has to freeze that player’s account until some proof of income is forthcoming. What counts as “too much, too fast,” is currently set by the operator.

This issue of affordability checks has been much discussed since the white paper was announced in 2019 off the back of a “Call For Evidence” the prior year. Since then, the paper has flowed fast as treacle through two prime ministerial resignations and the COVID-19 pandemic.

patronizing and a threat to the profitability of the industry

Critics of the gambling industry often view affordability checks as an important way to protect vulnerable players. Critics of affordability checks, on the other hand, view them as patronizing and a threat to the profitability of the industry. Michael Dugher, chief executive of the BGC, has cited a study that suggests that such checks push vulnerable players into the grey and black markets.

Scully tries to split the difference by proposing a more nuanced solution.

Scully gives some insight

In his speech, Scully explained that the government has already noted key areas of concern in regards to gambling. For example, he highlighted “particularly vulnerable customers who can be harmed by even quite small losses” as well as “high spending binge behavior with the potential for lasting financial harm, and high sustained losses over a longer period of time.”

a consideration of financial circumstances can only ever reveal that one type of risk – financial.”

However, the biggest reform he wants to make to affordability checks is in their name. Deeming ‘affordability checks’ the “wrong title” for the protections he and other ministers are envisaging, he proposed the use of ‘financial risk assessments’ instead. He claimed that “a consideration of financial circumstances can only ever reveal that one type of risk – financial.”

The government is unlikely to reveal exactly what these new “financial risk assessments” will look like before the paper is actually published. Even when the paper does come out, that won’t be the end of it. Scully made clear that the paper will serve as guidance, but it will be up to the regulators to turn its recommendations into regulations and up to the government to write the recommendations into law.

It has taken nearly three years for the paper to reach this point. The industry will be waiting anxiously to see how this white paper impacts policy in the years to come.

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