DCMS consults on significant increases to Gambling Commission fees
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) has launched a consultation which proposes significant increases to Gambling Commission fees, which will affect existing licensees and new applicants. The fee hikes are based on recommendations made by the Gambling Commission to Government, and are intended to fund its costs and increase its resources to respond to emerging risks and technologies. It follows considerable concerns about the funding of the Gambling Commission raised in February 2020, by the National Audit Office, in June 2020, by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, and in July 2020, by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry.
It is worth noting that the Government Call for Evidence, published on 8 December 2020, includes review of the Gambling Commission’s power and resources. To heed off any criticism that the proposed fee increase is premature, the consultation states “the proposals are aimed at ensuring the Gambling Commission is able to meet ongoing challenges while the Review progresses.” It, therefore, does not close the door on further increases!
The Gambling Commission identified the following “key challenges” in regulation which are expected to grow in significance in coming years and are used as justification for the proposed increased fees:
Challenge 1: Increased technological developments, including product and payment innovation, requiring:
- more specialist staff, including a Chief Product Officer, to understand and translate the impact of technological changes, and other staff with technical and investigative expertise;
- investment in tools to improve the Gambling Commission’s approach to compliance; and
- development of the Gambling Commission’s approach to making better use of the wealth of data available to it.
Challenge 2: Changes in the size and shape of the market, particularly consolidation by mergers and acquisitions, and globalisation, requiring:
- more staff to drive the international regulatory agenda and work with international regulatory partners and agencies;
- specialist staff to interrogate and understand complex corporate structures; and
- increased legal capacity to defend positions.
Challenge 3: Increasing risks associated with unlicensed operators to protect consumers and the industry from “black market” encroachment, requiring:
- more staff to identify, proactively and systematically, the scale of illegal gambling; and
- more resources to tackle illegal gambling more robustly, including increased legal capacity for prosecutions.
The inclusion of Challenge 3 is perhaps most surprising given that the Gambling Commission has, for some time, maintained the view that the impact of the black market has been “exaggerated”.
The Gambling Commission acknowledges its proposed responses to these key challenges “are not fixed and will need to evolve over time”.
Annex One of the consultation includes the Gambling Commission’s detailed assessment of these key challenges.
The Gambling Commission’s funding comes from its fee income (from application and annual fees), and in recent years, it has been drawing on its reserves which are now running low and will not be able to sustain its operations in the future.
In 2020-2021 the Gambling Commission’s budgeted income was £20.4 million and the latest figures suggest that its actual income will be approximately £700k less due to the impact of Covid-19. Its operating budget is £21.39 million, broken down as follows:
Without increased fees, the Gambling Commission expects to see a difference between its income and expenditure of approximately £3 million per year by 2023-24. This is without any additional investment in new work to deal with the challenges set out above which it estimates will cost between £2m and £3m per annum.
Proposed changes from October 2021:
- 60% increase to all application fees (both remote and non-remote licences) regardless of the licence type or fee category;
- 55% increase to annual fees for all remote operating licences (except for lottery and gaming machine technical licences) and all gambling software licences (both remote and non-remote);
- the removal of existing 5% discounts on annual fees for combined or multiple licences (both remote and non-remote);
- 100% increase to the “flat” additional annual fee paid by licensees who hold operating licences authorising multiple RNG-based activities (including “host” licensees);
- additional fee bands for society lotteries (remote and non-remote) and external lottery manager licences, increasing annual fees by at least 15%; and
- 15% increase to annual fees for all gaming machine technical licences
Non-remote annual fees will also be increased, but not until April 2022, as the Gambling Commission and Government appreciate the overwhelming impact Covid-19 has had on the land-based gambling industry, requiring non-remote operators to have been closed for almost all of the last year. When the annual fee increase comes into effect for non-remote licensees, it will be an increase of just 15%, as the Gambling Commission has identified that it is remote B2C operators, gambling software licensees and host licensees which are driving the increased regulatory burden and are responsible for the bulk of the Gambling Commission’s workload and costs.
Application to vary and change of corporate control fees remain unchanged; however, as these fees are usually calculated based on a percentage of a standard licence fee (with the exception of flat-rate fees in specific circumstances), the knock-on effect of the above-mentioned proposed changes will mean that these fees will also significantly increase.
Annex Two of the consultation sets out the proposed new fees for each licence type and fee category.
There are only five questions that DCMS request feedback on:
1: Do you agree that annual fees should be increased in line with the proposals set out here, in order to enable the Commission to meet the challenges it has identified?
2: Do you agree with the proposals to increase the additional flat fees for licences that combine remote casino, bingo and/or virtual event betting (RNG licences), and the flat fees for those that combine host licences?
3: Do you agree with the proposals to remove the 5% annual fee (and first annual fee) discounts for other types of combined licence, and the 5% annual fee discount where both non-remote and remote licences are held?
4: Do you agree with the proposals to introduce additional fee categories for society lotteries and ELMs that generate (or manage) greater than £10m proceeds per annum?
5: Do you agree with the proposal to increase application fees to better reflect the costs involved in processing applications?
We strongly recommend:
- Any new operating licence application is submitted urgently (if you are ready!) for two reasons. Firstly, to pay lower application fees. Secondly, if your new licence is granted before October 2021 – which may be tight depending on where you are in the process – to pay lower annual fees.
- Existing licensees review their fee categories to ensure they are in the correct fee category before their next annual fee is payable.
The fees consultation closes on 26 March 2021 and we urge you to respond, as one thing is certain: soon you will be paying a lot more for your licence.