Gambling Act white paper: Why it’s better sooner rather than later

| By Daniel O'Boyle
iGB op-ed: Daniel O'Boyle outlines why the industry should push for publication of the UK government’s Gambling Act white paper.
Houses of Parliament

Amid the record-breaking heat in the UK this week, you’d be forgiven for beginning to see things.

Such as, for example, iGB making the case that the industry should push for speedy publication of the Gambling Act white paper?

The very command of “publish the white paper” has become almost a rallying cry for those who wish to see a review that will come as close as possible to banning gambling altogether. So it could be easy to assume those who support a healthy industry should want the government to stall for as long as possible.

In fact, that seems to be how it has mostly shaken out. Reformers have staked out a position calling for movement in the review, and the industry has fallen to the other side of the debate – the side of unpopular intra-party bickering that’s slowed down government’s ability to tackle a range of challenges.

But reactively assuming a view based on opponents’ positions may not always be wise. In this case, it may be time for the industry to let the Gambling Act review get to its next step and work on improvements there.

Opening salvo, not closing scene

There is no doubt that some of the reported measures – such as certain affordability checks coming in at just £125  – could be improved based on the way they have been presented so far.

Yet here, it is worth reflecting on exactly what the white paper will be, and what it is not.

Just this weekend, DCMS published its “other” white paper: on loot boxes. The document offers plenty of guidance for change, but is a long way from concrete regulation.

By all accounts, the gambling edition will include more specificity, but the loot box edition was this way for a reason: there’s still a long way to go before a white paper becomes law.

There will be plenty of opportunities for the industry to have its say in what comes next, but the place for that may now be in the true legislative process in Westminster rather than behind the scenes in Whitehall.

Ultimately, this area – where more specifics need to be hashed out – is where the industry can really think about having its loudest say. 

We’ve not had enough of experts

Reformers can call for general ideas to tackle areas where they have recognised high risks of harm, but only those with industry experience can truly understand the specifics of what new laws should look like. Here, the industry can offer its expertise on – for example – the customer journey, to help create affordability checks that prevent harmful gambling without pushing customers to sites with fewer protections.

All of this can be conducted relatively openly, with those who will have the final say ultimately directly responsible to their voters. With this transparency, the industry can make its case to the public, and focus on avoiding unpopular measures such as those involving widespread sharing of bank statements, even if it means concessions in areas where reform is popular, such as football sponsorship. 

With the debate hidden from view, meanwhile, businesses face uncertainty that may be as bad as the impact of the review itself. A number of operators have made efforts to pre-empt rules, but with little clarity on what they’re pre-empting.

That uncertainty has certainly already spooked the financial sector, as banks struggled to sell on debt owed by 888 without knowing what will happen to the GB market that is now comfortably its largest. With plenty of other challenges in the current fundraising environment, an extra reason for investors to have their doubts cannot be ideal.

And while uncertainty persists, the window of possible reforms is also exceptionally wide, and as long as that happens, those receiving a platform to discuss changes will mostly be those pushing for the most stringent measures. It can’t help the industry to continue lending legitimacy to ideas like a total marketing ban.

And all the while, certain corners of the media draw up conspiracy theories, based on tenuous past links, in which the betting and gaming sector secretly pulls the strings of the Cabinet Office. 

With every delay, the industry is presumed to have exerted further influence to get its way, giving fuel to the extreme voices among the reform side of the debate, who are handed a media platform every time the document is pushed back.

Those extreme voices will mostly insist that the industry will accept nothing that risks disrupting short-term profits in any way.

The vast majority of the industry, though, can accept that some reforms make sense, and simply have concerns about certain proposals that would be counterproductive. 

The industry can show it is serious about sensible reform by welcoming the next phase of the review, and taking steps to ensure the final piece of legislation is truly based on evidence.

Daniel O’Boyle is deputy editor for Clarion Gaming’s B2B brands.

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