VSO Analysis: What Would a New Labour Government Mean for UK Gambling Reform?

  • Labour is -1000 favorite to win the July UK general election, according to sportsbooks
  • Meanwhile, the current goverment is in the process of introducing gambling reform
  • Labour has critcized the Conservatives for not enacting gambling restrictions fast enough
  • But, the question remains as to whether Labour will stick by rules favoring land-based
Labour on voting card
If Labour wins the UK general election in July, as it is predicted to do, then it could spell change for reform on the gambling industry. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Time for change?

It’s finally happened. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a general election, to go ahead on July 4. He has vowed to “fight for every vote,” while Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer has stated that it is “time for change” away from “Tory Chaos.”

As food and energy prices rise, so does support for Starmer’s party

It certainly could be time for change if the polls are to be believed. Labour has been leading the Conservatives in the polls for months, owing in part to a cost-of-living crisis that seems only to be getting worse. As food and energy prices rise, so does support for Starmer’s party.

In fact, sportsbooks have priced Labour as -1000 favorite to secure a majority come July, while the Conservative Party is +2000.

With all this in mind, those in the gaming industry might be wondering how this will impact the white paper on gambling reform. A year on from its publication, and the government has enacted a series of consultation rounds to debate the proposals, but how would a new Labour government impact this process?

The progress so far

The UK gambling white paper was finally unveiled in April last year after months of speculation. Its most notable proposals include stringent affordability checks, an online slot staking limit of between £2 ($2.54) and £15 ($19.06) per spin, a review of ads for free bets and bonuses, and a statutory levy for gambling firms.

Those changes did not come into place straight away, however. A series of consultations must take place to fine tune the white paper proposals before they are brought into action. Since publishing the report, the government has so far run three consultations, including one on land-based gambling (Jul to Oct 2023), one on the statutory levy (Oct to Dec 2023), and the other on stake limits (Jul to Sep 2023).

The government has so far only published its response to the consultations on stake limits and land-based gaming. MPs decided on a stake limit of £5 ($6.35) per spin for adults aged 25 and over and a maximum stake limit of £2 ($2.54) per spin for young adults aged 18 to 24. For land-based gaming, the government will implement a number of measures, including relaxation of casino rules for the number of gaming machines, allowing arcades and bingo halls to offer gaming machines, and allowing cashless payments on gaming machines.

The next step is for regulation to be drafted and laid before Parliament. If Parliament approves the measures, they will then impose them on operators in the UK. The UK Gambling Commission will then be responsible for enforcing those license conditions. Co-Founder and Director of External Affairs for Gamban Matt Zarb-Cousin recently said he is hopeful the rules will come into force by September or October this year.

What if Labour wins?

Zarb-Cousin was, however, speaking last month, before we knew a general election was inbound – one that Labour seems to have a good shot of winning. Notably, it was Tony Blair’s Labour government that actually introduced the Gambling Act in 2005, allowing gambling firms to advertise sports bets, poker, and online casinos on TV and radio for the first time.

we are still awaiting an updated manifesto for the July election

That was a long time ago though, and we are still awaiting an updated manifesto for the July election which would make clearer Labour’s current stance on gambling. That said, in the past, Starmer and his fellow Labour members have criticized the Tories for failing to tighten gambling restrictions.

In 2023, Labour Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell said there is an urgent need to “update analogue gambling regulation,” blaming the “Conservatives’ failure to govern” on the lack of action in this area to date. That same year, Starmer himself stated that “regulations need to be tightened” on the industry, adding that he will “look at what the government puts forward.”

So, as long as this wasn’t party posturing aimed just to rattle opponents, it seems Labour will aim to introduce reform as soon as possible. Significantly, it is unclear if this will also apply to those few rules that actually favor the gambling industry, namely the reform of the struggling land-based sector.  

Desperate land-based

Speaking with CasinoBeats, John Bollom, President of UK land-based gambling representative Bacta, said “a snap general election was always the biggest risk to getting Gambling White Paper reforms passed into law.”

It is imperative, if there is a change in government, that the Labour Party finished the job.”

In light of this, he urged Bacta members to contact their MPs, especially those in the Labour Party, to ask them to support the reforms to land-based gambling. “We will be issuing advice to members on how to do this in the coming days,” he explained, adding: “It is imperative, if there is a change in government, that the Labour Party finished the job.”

They are changes that can’t come soon enough for land-based, which is struggling to compete with online options. The number of physical casinos in the UK has dropped from 160 a few years ago to 119 today as they failed to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Commenting last year, Rank Group Director of Public Affairs David Williams said casinos are “chomping at the bit to secure the modernizations that will help us.”

Based on the information available, it seems a Labour government is unlikely to bring good news for the gambling sector. But, we will have to wait and see what Starmer sets out in his manifesto for a clearer idea.

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