In the UK, we have heard this argument repeatedly over the last decade, given the confusion surrounding Brexit. While, with the probable exception of Northern Ireland, that clarity broadly has been reached, there are nevertheless several other areas where the UK provides a confusing regulatory landscape. This is perhaps most evident in the betting and gaming industry.
Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s hard to deny that having gone through several Prime Ministers, a handful of Chancellors, and Ministers of State constantly swapping posts is bad for continuity. A case in point is the much-anticipated White Paper on Gambling Reform. This bill, which was intended to provide a much-needed update to the 2005 Gambling Act, has been pushed back no fewer than four times. Right now, the best date current Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer can give us on the bill is, “soon”. Frazer, who heads the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which will be responsible for the bill, is the eighth Minster to head this department since 2017, and the fourth since 2021.
The need for the bill is pressing
Make no mistake about it: the need for the White Paper is important. In the years since it was first mooted, there have been all types of rumours on how tough it will be on the betting and gaming industry. There are talks of creating minimum stakes for online gambling, affordability checks for players, and other such measures. While we know there will be some changes to reflect the digital gambling landscape, those are broad topics. The question business will wish to know is how radical and intrusive the regulations will be.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that regulation does evolve in the absence of overarching bills. The UKGC (UK Gambling Commission) will implement new rules and procedures. For example, it made moves in 2020 to ban credit card deposits for online sportsbooks and casinos. It means that fully-licensed UK casino brands like Spin Casino, which is credentialed by the UKGC, will base their operations through the regulatory framework that is already provided by the Commission, updating it where necessary.
However, other major brands have already fled the UK, including those owned by the international Mansion Group. Critics might claim it is no big loss, as there is a plethora of gambling brands ready to take Mansion’s customers. But it is never a good sign for business when big brands are fleeing and citing regulatory confusion. Gambling, like other industries, is adaptable. Germany has some of the toughest gambling laws in the world among countries where the activity is legal. Yet it also has the clarity to allow big brands to maintain their presence.
Horse racing sector asks for clarity
Of course, while the White Paper is designed to update the 2005 Gambling Act, which largely failed to anticipate the impact of the internet and mobile phones, the bill will also impact on-site gambling. The UK horse racing industry, in particular, has been vocal about the need for reform and the need for clarity. Betting companies put a huge amount of money – some of it enforced – into the horse racing sector, but that industry, like everyone else, must wait in limbo to see how both businesses and punters will be impacted.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that the White Paper does not mean its contents will automatically become law. If, for example, the bill is to be published in the summer of this year, then it will go to parliamentary debate, scrutiny by the Lords, and so on. Some of it may be brought into law, or it may go back to another public consultation. Even if it is passed, there will be delays in implementation, allowing firms to adjust their products and services accordingly. It means, therefore, that the country could be in for almost a decade without the reforms being implemented. All of this is without even mentioning the firm possibility of a new Labour Government, which could have its own ideas on gambling reform, coming into power in the next 24 months.
Gambling delivers billions of pounds in taxes to the UK Exchequer each year. Sure, most people believe that reforms are needed, and that includes enhancing player protections in a digital age. However, the limbo we are stuck in at the moment is not good for the business, the players, or anyone indirectly connected to the sector. The sooner this White Paper arrives, the better it will be for all concerned.