Three years, six ministers and one white paper
The Racing Post headline this afternoon (27 April 2023) neatly reminds us how long we have had to wait for the government’s White Paper on gambling reform. It was published today with the resounding title – “High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age”. Whether it delivers all that it promises, or promised when it was announced in 2020, remains to be seen.
This is a first response to a quick read-though of a publication hot off the press. Detailed commentary will follow when the proposals and their implications have been fully considered.
My first impression is that of a can being kicked yet further down the road. After all this time, 16,000 submissions in answer to the review’s “Call for Evidence”, and a House of Lords Select Committee Report, the government still has not the courage to bring necessary legislation forward but will consult (or the Gambling Commission will consult on its behalf) on many of the major proposals.
Some eye-catching consultations are –
- A consultation is to take place on limiting permitted stakes for online slots between £2 and £15 per spin, with greater protection for 18-24 year olds being suggested by stake limits of £2 or £4 per spin.
- A consultation on a statutory (rather than voluntary) levy on operators, “collected and distributed by the Gambling Commission under the direction and approval of Treasury and DCMS ministers.” A 1% levy on profits has been mentioned.
- A consultation on making player-set deposit limits either mandatory, or opt-out rather than opt-in.
- A consultation on “mandating participation in a cross-operator harm prevention system based on data sharing”. (The language of “Yes Minister”, but just about comprehensible if one works at it.) Operators should take comfort that the government “will ensure that data-sharing is never used for commercial purposes.”
- A consultation on increasing the maximum fees for premises licences and permits.
- The Gambling Commission will consult on two forms of ‘financial risk check’:
- (1) Background checks at moderate levels of spend for financial vulnerability indicators such as County Court judgements. “Moderate levels of spend” equates to £125 net loss within a month, or £500 within a year.
- (2) Checks at higher levels of “spend which may indicate harmful binge gambling”: namely, £100 net loss within 24 hours, or £2,000 within 90 days.
- The Gambling Commission will consult on new controls on incentives such as free bets and bonuses.
- The Gambling Commission will consult on customers having greater control over types of marketing they receive.
- The government will work with Commission to develop specific consultations options for cashless payments (debit cards) on gaming machines.
When Parliamentary time allows…
Other proposals fall under the unpromising heading “When Parliamentary time allows”.
- When parliamentary time allows “we will align the regimes for alcohol and gambling licensing by introducing cumulative impact assessment”.
- When parliamentary time allows “we will legislate to ensure that there is no online or widely and easily accessible gambling for under 18s”.
- When Parliamentary time allows “we plan to give the Gambling Commission increased powers to support disruption and enforcement activity”.
Casinos are the winners
The casino industry is perhaps the largest beneficiary of the White Paper:
- 1968 act Casinos to have same machine-entitlements as 2005 Act casinos.
- Casinos of all sizes to be allowed to offer Sports betting.
- Unused 2005 Act casino licences to be allocated to other local authorities.
Can we expect to see a reduction in gambling-related harm?
Although the White Paper claims to be a “package of measures to significantly increase protections with the aim of reducing harm”, the seed of a defence (should it fail in that ambition) has been carefully planted: “We cannot precisely project the reduction in gambling-related harm we expect to see at this stage.”
The bottom line
The government expects the proposals to reduce the gambling industry’s revenues. It estimates between a 3% and 8% drop in Gross Gambling Yield across the entire sector; with online gambling bearing the brunt of that (a drop of between 8% and 14%).
The full text of the White Paper can be found at:
Gerald Gouriet KC
Francis Taylor Building