Reformer’s shopping list’: gambling laws review starts next week
A wide-ranging review of gambling laws to be launched next week will consider banning sports sponsorship and limiting online casino stakes among a “reformer’s shopping list” of proposals to overhaul gambling laws, the Guardian can reveal.
The long-awaited review, which could roll back vast swathes of the Gambling Act 2005, will begin as soon as Monday with an initial call for evidence.
Terms of reference will be published at the same time, offering the first insight into what is in store for the gambling industry as well as campaigners calling for tougher regulation.
Amid mounting concern about gambling’s role in wider society, changes under consideration will include:
Limits on online stakes, prizes and “spin speeds”.
Tough affordability checks.
A testing regime for new products.
A sports sponsorship ban.
New powers to tackle the parallel market.
Legal redress for wronged punters.
A mandatory levy to fund addiction treatment.
The broad scope is likely to be welcomed by advocates for tighter regulation, including people recovering from problem gambling and more than 50 MPs and and peers who have backed stricter controls. But the prospect of a much harsher regulatory climate will concern online casino bosses and bookmakers.
Multiple sources said officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is leading the process, would take aim at almost every area of gambling law, in what one insider termed a “reformer’s shopping list”.
One key area in their sights is regulation of online casino and electronic slot machine games. Gamblers can bet unlimited amounts online, even though some internet-based games such as roulette are no different from those that were available on fixed-odds betting terminals, whose maximum stake was cut from £100 to £2.
Alongside new maximum stakes, prizes could be curbed and the speed of play limited.
Ministers will consider whether firms should be forced to limit players’ monthly losses and perform stricter affordability checks to ensure people are gambling within their means. They will also look at mandating a “single customer view” policy, where multiple firms pool information about potentially vulnerable customers.
It follows a string of high-profile incidents in which problem gamblers were left destitute after losing large sums of money.
Under proposals to be weighed up by the DMCS, new gambling products could also be subjected to a rigorous testing regime that would determine whether they are released on to the market and how much can be wagered on them. So-called “white label” operations, where overseas firms can buy access to the UK market via a local company, will also be examined.
The UK gambling industry’s lobby group, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has repeatedly said tightening the regulations too far could fuel parallel market betting operations that have a scant regard for customer safety. But the DCMS will consider giving the regulator, the Gambling Commission, which has admitted it is underfunded, extra financial resources and new powers to tackle illicit operators.
Sources said the review would also consider marketing and advertising, including the possibility of new measures to curb sports sponsorship – including logos on football club shirts – in an apparent response to the “gamblification” of football.
Promotional offers are also expected to form part of the review’s scope, indicating that the government is not satisfied with efforts by the industry and the Gambling Commission to address VIP schemes, bonuses and so-called “free bets”.
VIP schemes, in which losing gamblers are wined, dined and given financial incentives to keep betting, have been a common feature of stories about problem gamblers who resorted to crime or took their own lives.
DCMS will consider making the existing levy system that funds addiction treatment mandatory. But the department is not expected to take on the much-criticised lack of funding for treatment of gambling addiction, indicating that this will be left to the Department of Health and Social Care.
The sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, will oversee the review but Boris Johnson is understood to be keen on dialling back the Blair-era legislation that spawned the modern UK gambling industry.
Senior officials in Downing Street are also believed to see gambling reform as a vote-winner, as well as the right thing to do. “The PM just sees it as people being exploited and it’s not him,” one MP with knowledge of No 10’s thinking said earlier this year.
A BGC spokesperson said: “It is important that the review is evidence-led and strikes the right balance between protecting the vulnerable, while not spoiling the enjoyment of the estimated 30 million people who enjoy a bet at least once a month – the vast majority of whom do so perfectly safely – and driving them into the arms of the unregulated online black market.”