Speculation mounts over GB gambling white paper’s release
iGB understands that speculation has come to a head with industry sources widely expecting that the white paper is due to be released next week, perhaps as early as Monday.
A spokesman from the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) did not make any commitments regarding exact timings.
“We do not comment on speculation,” said the spokesman. “We are determined to protect those most at risk of gambling-related harm and are working to finalise details of our review. The white paper will strengthen our regulatory framework to ensure it is fit for the digital age.”
In addition to iGB sources, there has been repeated speculation in the trade and national press regarding the exact date the white paper will be released. The Times reported the 17 April date, as did gambling regulatory newsletter Compliance + More.
However, numerous previous rumour cycles have left many sceptical about any promises as to when the report will be released.
One sign that the release may indeed be getting close is today’s news that the Premier League will be self-imposing a voluntary front-of shirt ban of gambling sponsors. Previous attempts to push this through have failed, with sources claiming that clubs intended to delay the measure until the white paper’s release.
The white paper saga
The white paper itself has been subject to multiple delays in its journey to the public.
In December 2020, Boris Johnson’s government announced the launch of the Gambling Act review, a wide-ranging probe of the country’s gambling laws to ensure that they were “fit for the digital age”.
The subsequent call for evidence ran from December 2020 to 31 March 2021, and saw interested parties make more than 16,000 submissions.
Input ranged from the Gambling Commission’s own submission, alongside evidence from lobbying bodies, operators, suppliers, campaigning groups and individuals.
The outcome of this process was intended to be the Gambling Act review white paper.
By summer 2022, its release had been pushed back on three separate occasions, but there was hope that publication was imminent. However, the document was caught up in the wider political turmoil that surrounded the resignations of Boris Johnson, and later, Liz Truss.
Changes to the Gambling Act review
By all accounts, the white paper itself has changed significantly over the past year.
Each time a new government was formed, a new gambling and culture minister took charge and spent time getting a handle on their new brief. In his resignation letter, Johnson’s gambling minister Chris Philp famously said that the document was on the prime minister’s desk ready to be signed-off.
Some have argued that this moment represented a watershed moment for the industry. Scott Benton MP, the target of a recent undercover sting by Times reporters, was secretly filmed saying that the gambling industry has received most of what it wanted from the white paper.
What does the Gambling Act review cover?
While the exact details of the final document remain a mystery, the broad contents have been repeatedly leaked to the press. Many of the proposals will therefore not be entirely surprising.
Affordability checks (sometimes dubbed financial risk checks) are almost certain to be included in some form. While the measure has often been considered something of a red line for industry, much depends on how the checks will actually be implemented, particularly at lower betting volumes.
A mandatory levy is set to be included, as are so called “smart” stake limits for online slots. These are rumoured to be limited to £2 per spin for under-25s, and £15 for older players.
Another potential provision will be the creation of a gambling ombudsman to solve disputes.
Both industry lobbying bodies and campaigners have stated their support of the principles of the review. However, UK trade body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has often repeated the claim that the more stringent versions of reform threaten to push consumers to the unlicensed sector.
“We strongly support the Gambling review as a further opportunity to raise standards and promote safer gambling, but any changes introduced by the government must not drive customers towards the growing unsafe, unregulated black market online, where billions of pounds are being staked,” said a BGC spokesman.
This month, the BGC came out in favour of a mandatory levy to fund gambling research education and treatment (RET). That approach marked a change from the current framework, whereby funding is channelled via voluntary contributions from the gambling businesses.
This represented a change from the trade body’s previous position, emphasised just weeks before by the organisation’s chair Michael Dugher at the BGC’s annual general meeting.
The mandatory levy
Director of Clean Up Gambling Matt Zarb-Cousin argued that this was because the BGC had “lost the argument and now they know it’s happening”.
“They’re wanting to shape how it happens, but in order to do so, they need to accept that it’s happening and welcome it,” he said.
“From the operators that I spoke to, and I spoke to several, their understanding was that they weren’t going to argue for a statutory levy even though they knew it was happening.
“Obviously there was a time when it wasn’t going to happen and the BGC were making a public argument against it. And then there was a time where they realised it was going to happen, but they weren’t publicly supporting it.
“And the operators I spoke to were saying that’s because they were quite happy for that to be the quote-un-quote ‘kicking’ that the government gave them.”
For its part, the BGC highlighted the contributions that industry makes towards the UK national economy.
“The regulated betting and gaming industry in the UK contributes £7.1bn to the economy in GVA and generates £4.2bn in taxes which fund essential public services. The industry also supports 110,000 jobs across the country,” a BGC spokesman told iGB.
The next steps in the process
Whether the white paper is released next week or next month, it will be by no means the end of the process. A number of consultations are planned for the summer where the provisions of the document will be scrutinised and implementation will be discussed.
The BGC has already indicated it is involved in these discussions.
“We have been working with the government to ensure that any future changes are proportionate, carefully targeted and effective,” it said.
According to Zarb-Cousin, things could now move at some speed.
“There are still elements of what what’s going to be announced that will need to be consulted on and ironed out, but I think as we move into that phase it’s going to be more about implementation and what’s technically possible,” he said. “How it is implemented will obviously form the basis of discourse around the coming six months. But I expect the Commission will want to move quite quickly.”
The release of the white paper will be the culmination of years of work from government, campaigners and the industry to finalise what the future of the UK gambling regime will be. For Zarb-Cousin, it represents a major milestone.
“We’ve campaigned for a long time to try to reform this stuff and the agenda around which this review has coalesced has become a common sense. But it wasn’t always like that.”