Three years later
If you are keeping track of UK gambling policy, you might remember a comment from former Prime Minister Boris Johnson back in 2019. He referred to the Gambling Act 2005 as an “analogue law for a digital age,” vowing to update it for the modern era. Then again, you could be forgiven for forgetting those words given that he muttered them more than three years ago.
still no sign of this elusive white paper
In his 2019 General Election manifesto, Johnson promised that UK gambling rules would undergo a review with a resulting white paper dictating what new rules operators would have to adhere to. Since then, the UK public have seen a pandemic, ‘Partygate,’ an adulterous health secretary, a cost of living crisis, and a completely new Prime Minister, but still no sign of this elusive white paper.
While rumors of the white paper’s imminent publication have begun circling in recent weeks, news has just surfaced that it looks set for further delays. Time is running out for the paper before parliament goes to recess on March 30, and a period in which government departments offer feedback on the policy is still yet to even begin.
Parliament will return from the break on April 17, but a critical pre-local election period will follow which could prompt further delays. If this proves true, the UK gambling industry might not find out its fate until May at the earliest, leaving operators pacing in limbo as they await any tangible news of what to expect.
So, is there anything that we do know?
Piecing together the puzzle
Since Boris Johnson confirmed that there would be a review of gambling law, rumors have spread like wildfire regarding what changes it might prompt. Wading through these rumors to find the truth is the main task facing UK gambling operators as they seek to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
In January, Paul Scully, the then UK gambling minister, confirmed his team was putting the final touches on the white paper. He said that the reform would entail affordability checks – something that many in the industry had anticipated from the get-go. However, he said these would be referred to as “financial risk assessments” and that their implementation would be up to the regulators.
Although one of the main rumors circling regarding the white paper was that it would include a ban on gambling sponsors in the English Premier League (EPL), reports suggest that this is now very unlikely. MPs have confirmed that the government is moving towards a deal with the EPL that would see the soccer league axe front-of-shirt gambling deals voluntarily, removing the need for a blanket ban.
Outside of these government-confirmed factors, the rest of the white paper details are up for debate. Industry experts have suggested a long list of potential reforms, including online casino staking limits and other gameplay controls, limits to VIP programs, the introduction of further safer gambling messaging, curtailment of white label casinos, and a ban on loot boxes in video games.
Unpopular affordability checks
As operators wait patiently, they are already beginning to increase their affordability checks in advance of expected reform, according to Racing Post data. The media site ran a survey with 10,400 respondents which found that one in six UK horse racing bettors had recently faced requests to hand over bank slips or statements to their sportsbook of choice. Half of those had received requests from more than one operator.
The results seem to confirm rumors that the UK Gambling Commission has asked its operators to increase their affordability checks prior to the white paper’s publication.
bettors are not happy about the increased number of checks
However, the survey also shows that bettors are not happy about the increased number of checks. Almost 97% of respondents insisted that they are best placed to assess whether their betting is affordable rather than the regulator or bookmaker. Around 11% confirmed that being prevented from betting due to affordability checks would drive them towards the black market.
Michael Dugher, the chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, deemed the results a “wake-up call for ministers.” He said bettors clearly “do not want the intrusive, blanket, low-level affordability checks that the anti-gambling lobby is calling for,” adding: “Punters clearly object to the government or anyone else telling them how much of their own money they can afford to bet.”