Long-Awaited Gambling White Paper Published
The long-awaited High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age (the “White Paper”) has been published today, nearly 30 months after the review of the Gambling Act 2005 terms of reference and call for evidence (the “Gambling Review”) was published on 8 December 2020.
The Gambling Review had the following objectives:
- Examine whether changes are needed to the system of gambling regulation in Great Britain to reflect changes to the gambling landscape since 2005, particularly due to technological advances;
- Ensure there is an appropriate balance between consumer freedoms and choice on the one hand, and prevention of harm to vulnerable groups and wider communities on the other; and
- Make sure customers are suitably protected whenever and wherever they are gambling, and that there is an equitable approach to the regulation of the online and the land-based industries.
Six Gambling Ministers, three Prime Ministers, two Monarchs, 16,000 responses, several leaks, a World Cup and a global pandemic later, we welcome the publication of the White Paper which brings at least the beginnings of some certainty and direction to the industry about Government plans to ensure our gambling laws are “fit for the digital age” and on important issues such as affordability, where speculation (often of the worst-case variety) and uncertainty has been casting a long shadow over the future of the industry. It also brings substantial and meaningful reforms intended to make gambling safer, “to protect vulnerable users in smartphone era”. These include the proposed introduction of a mandatory levy on gambling companies (for spending on research, education and treatment of problem gambling), but will undoubtedly not go far enough to meet the expectations of gambling reform campaigners.
In today’s announcement, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer outlined a comprehensive package of new measures to achieve the Government’s objectives following the Gambling Review, and captured the balance between consumer freedoms and protection of harm in her Ministerial Foreword to the White Paper as follows:
“Millions of us enjoy gambling every year and most suffer no ill effects, so state intervention must be targeted to prevent addictive and harmful gambling. Adults who choose to spend their money on gambling are free to do so, and we should not inhibit the development of a sustainable and properly regulated industry which pays taxes and provides employment to service that demand. What we will not permit is for operators to place commercial objectives ahead of customer wellbeing so that vulnerable people are exploited.”
The White Paper is 268 pages long and has six chapters.
The key proposed reforms are:
- A statutory gambling levy to fund treatment services and research, including through the NHS, the rate of which will be subject to further DCMS consultation. The DCMS consultation will consider the differing association of different sectors of the industry with harm and/or their differing fixed costs, and will commence with design and scope in Summer 2023.
- New default stake limits for online slots games that will be between £2 and £15 per spin, with greater protections for 18-24 year olds (options of £2 or £4 or based on individual risk), all subject to DCMS consultation in Summer 2023.
- The Gambling Commission will consult in Summer 2023 on two forms of financial risk checks. It is proposed that at a £125 net loss within a month or £500 within a year, there will be background checks for financial vulnerability, such as County Court Judgments. It is proposed that at higher levels of spend, engaging proposed thresholds of £1,000 net loss within 24 hours or £2,000 within 90 days, there will be more detailed consideration of a customer’s financial position. It is proposed these triggers will be halved for those aged 18 to 24. The Government estimates that “only about three percent of the highest spending accounts will have more detailed checks”. The intention is that these checks will be “frictionless” with further information only being required from customers as a last resort. Operators will be required to respond appropriately to any identified risks on a case-by-case basis, but “it is not the intent that government or the Gambling Commission should set a blanket rule on how much of their income adults should be able to spend on gambling”.
- The Gambling Commission intends to consult on mandating participation in a cross-operator harm prevention system based on data sharing.
- Extra powers for the Gambling Commission to enable it to tackle black market operators through court orders and work with internet service providers (ISPs) to take down and block illegal gambling sites. Proposed reform of the fee structure for the Gambling Commission “to give it greater flexibility to respond to any emerging risks and challenges posed by the industry”. The Culture Secretary envisages a “beefed up, better funded and more proactive Gambling Commission”.
- Rules to prevent bonus offers from harming vulnerable people – for example, the Gambling Commission will be looking in 2023 at how free bets or spins are constructed and targeted to stop them from being harmful.
- A review by the Gambling Commission in Spring/Summer 2023 of online game design rules to look at limiting speed of play and other characteristics which exacerbate risks.
- A new industry ombudsman to deal with disputes and rule on redress where a customer suffers losses due to an operator failing in their player protection duties, to be accepting complaints within a year.
- A review of the current horserace betting levy to make certain racing continues to thrive.
- Casinos of all sizes will be permitted to offer sports betting in addition to other gambling activities.
- Government will take steps to reallocate unused 2005 Act casino licences to other local authorities.
- Where 1968 Act casinos meet the requirements of a 2005 Act Small casino, including for size and non-gambling space, they will be eligible for the same gaming machine allowance. A single gaming machine-to-table ratio of 5:1 will apply to Large and Small 2005 Act casinos and these larger 1968 Act casinos, and they will be entitled to the same maximum 80 machine allowance as Small casinos. Smaller casinos will benefit from more machines on a pro rata basis commensurate with their size and non-gambling space, subject to the same table-to-machine ratios and other conditions. DCMS to consult in Summer 2023.
- Government will legislate, when Parliamentary time allows, so that the small number of high-end casinos operating in the internationally competitive market will be able to offer credit to international visitors who have undergone stringent checks set out by the Gambling Commission.
- DCMS will work with the Gambling Commission to develop specific consultation options for cashless payments in the land-based sectors, including the player protections that would be required before the prohibition is removed. Consultation in Summer 2023.
- Government will adjust the 80/20 ratio which restricts the balance of Category B and C/D machines in bingo and arcade venues to 50/50, to ensure that businesses can offer customer choice and flexibility while maintaining a balanced offer of gambling products. DCMS consultation in Summer 2023.
- Government is supportive of trials of linked gaming machines, where prizes could accrue across a community of machines, in venues other than casinos (where they are already permitted). This is subject to further work to assess the conditions and how to limit gambling harm, and subject to Parliamentary time to legislate.
The White Paper is a Government policy document which sets out proposals for future gambling legislation and regulation. The White Paper does not include a draft Bill, because the proposed reforms (with just a few exceptions) do not require primary legislation. This is consistent with our long-held view that the Government and the Gambling Commission already have wide-ranging and extensive powers under the Gambling Act 2005, that most reforms can therefore be achieved through secondary legislation and regulation, and that the Government has far more important legislative priorities in the present socio-economic climate.
As the previous Gambling Minister, Paul Scully MP, said in his speech to the Betting and Gaming Council on 26 January 2023:
“The White Paper is not the final word on gambling reform. It will be followed by consultations led by both DCMS and the Gambling Commission. I want the industry to stay engaged as policies are refined, finalised, and implemented.”
We urge the industry to heed that imperative. Our initial review suggests that the White Paper is arguably as balanced as the industry could reasonably have expected, with important and overdue liberalisations for the land-based industry, and that it should engage with Government and the Gambling Commission to ensure that the proposed reforms are delivered in a timely, sensible and, critically, workable way. Vigorous engagement will certainly be required in relation to the “affordability” proposals given their importance and complexity. The Government has set out an ambitious timeline for itself and the Gambling Commission in the White Paper and gambling reform campaigners have already made clear their intention to “hold the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure these measures are implemented swiftly”. So perhaps at least one area of consensus will emerge as secondary legislation and regulation is refined, finalised, and implemented, but do not expect many more as the debate about gambling reform intensifies.
We will continue to review the White Paper in more detail and will be publishing our insights “imminently” and reporting on material developments over the coming weeks and months.
Meantime, watch today’s announcement in the House of Commons made by the Culture Secretary, the Rt Hon Lucy Frazer KC MP: