Legal & compliance

Gambling Act review: The terms in full

| By Daniel O'Boyle
The UK Government has announced the terms for its long-awaited review of the 2005 Gambling Act, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) asking questions on the effect of stake limits and universal deposit limits.
UK-Parliament

Meanwhile, questions about advertising and bonuses suggest anything up to a complete ban on the major acquisition channels could potentially be on the table.

In total, the review includes 45 different questions built around three core objectives. 

First, it will examine whether changes to gambling regulations are needed, especially where technology has moved beyond the scope of the 2005 Act.

It also aims to strike a balance between consumer freedom and harm prevention, and finally will work to ensure customers are protected whether they gamble online or via retail channels.

The announcement of the review has of course received wide support across the UK sector. 

The Betting and Gaming Council said it was pleased to see the review but urged an “evidence-led” approach that kept the sector’s economic impact in mind. Meanwhile the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling-Related Harm and Peers for Gambling Reform each called for recommendations from reports released this Summer to be implemented. 

The Gambling Commission – which will be examined as part of the review – said it was happy to work with the Government.

Below, iGB outlines the key points of discussion set out by DCMS.

Online gambling

Within online gambling, the call for evidence asks 10 questions. These will include a question on the existing protections for online customers, and a question on how current online revenue is distributed between higher and lower-spending customers.

The call for evidence will then ask about the imposition of various controls on the online sector such as stake, speed and prize limits for online games, as well as stricter testing requirements. Accounts, meanwhile, may face deposit, loss or spend limits, with a follow-up question asking if these limits should exist universally or be applied on the basis of affordability.

In addition, DCMS will ask if evidence collected by operators could be better used to ensure a safer gambling environment and if current protections such as player-set limits could be improved.

The Government will also look specifically into “white label” operators, of which there are currently around 700. DCMS asked if these pose a “particular risk” to customers.

“Concerns have been raised that the companies who provide the brands may be seeking to use white label arrangements as they would be unable to meet the GB regulatory standards required to obtain a licence themselves, and that this therefore poses risks to consumers,” DCMS said.

New and emerging technologies, as well as delivery and payment methods such as blockchain and crypto currencies, will also be examined, with DCMS in particular keen to identify any potential risks. 

Marketing

Among the areas of marketing that the review will examine is bonusing. The review asked if “the harms or benefits of licensed operators being able to make promotional offers, such as free spins, bonuses and hospitality,” both for VIPs and overall. This suggests that a complete ban on bonusing is not off the table, though the review may instead result in a restriction on incentives only for VIPs.

The review also asks about “the positive and negative impact” of sports sponsorship and of the harms and benefits of advertising in general.

In addition, it asks about the effectiveness of mandatory safer gambling messages within advertisements.

The Regulator

The Gambling Commission and its roles and powers will come under specific scrutiny in the review. 

The call for evidence asks if it has “sufficient investigation, enforcement and sanctioning powers” to bring about change and improve standards in the industry. It then asks if there is scope for its existing powers to be “used differently or more effectively”.

DCMS will then ask whether there are any barriers to “high quality research to inform regulation or policy making”, and if so, how these may be overcome.

The call for evidence will also look at the unlicensed black market, asking if it is sizeable or if there is a risk of a significant black market emerging. It is also looking to find out how easy it is for customers to gamble with unlicensed operators, and how easily they can tell if they are doing so.

In addition, the government’s review looks at “the most effective system for recouping the regulatory and societal costs of gambling from operators”, whether it is through taxes, licence fees, levies or otherwise.

As well as this, DCMS asks a series of questions about harm redress, which are categorised separately to its questions about the Commission. It asks whether there is “evidence of a need to change redress arrangements”, and if so, if there was an existing model elsewhere that could be implemented.

The call for evidence also asks whether there is a more effective consumer redress measure than financial compensation. It pointed out that giving large sums to at-risk gamblers may pose a problem, while also suggesting that gambling is often “risk-free”.

Age limits and underage gambling

The call for evidence asks 10 questions about underage gambling and age limits. As well as asking about the effectiveness of the current measures, it asks if there is an existing “best practice” on age limit regulation.

Many of the questions then ask about age limits for category D gaming machines – such as the fruit machines commonly found at pubs – and for society lotteries. 

Category D machines have no minimum age, but British amusement machine association Bacta annouced last month that it would ban under-18 players from using them, while players must be 16 to play a society lottery. DCMS announced with the review of the Gambling Act that the age limit for the National Lottery would be increased from 16 to 18 by October 2021.

The call for evidence asks whether under-18s playing these games can create problem gambling or other harm later in life.

The review will also look into whether further protections should be implemented for those aged 18-25. The Betting and Gaming Council earlier this year announced its members would only allow players ages 25 or older to participate in VIP schemes.

Land-based gambling

The review asks whether changes to the land-based sector may support the Government’s goals. Among the changes it specifically asks for evidence on are increases in the number of gaming machines a casino may offer.

In addition, the review asks whether the new casinos introduced in the 2005 Gambling Act may ”support economic regeneration, tourism and growth while reducing risks of harm”. These include regional casinos, which “may offer casino games, bingo and/or betting and up to 1,250 Category A and Category B1 machines”.

DCMS will also ask whether licensing and local authorities “have enough powers” in terms of premises licences.