Betting Industry Challenged by DCMS Approach

Senior figures in the UK gambling sector are evaluating a policy document produced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in advance of the long promised review of the 2005 Gambling Act by the UK’s Conservative government.

This week, the Minister for Sport, Nigel Huddleston, addressed MPs in the House of Commons, to announce the document that will form the basis of the review, and promised that there would be no knee-jerk response to the process, promising to gather evidence and to listen.

Some of the policy proposals in the document, however, grabbed national headlines. These included a proposal to raise the minimum age for National Lottery product purchases to 18. This was announced together with a planned review of a blanket ban on advertising and the enforcement of significant online casino stake reductions to mirror changes made in 2019 to FOBTs.

Huddleston characterised the plan of the review as aiming at a ‘surgical re-wiring’ of the UK gambling sector and its relationship with the wider economy and society. He also emphasised the centrality of the gambling sector to UK society, in which around 47% of adults are estimated to take part in some form of gambling, and where there is employment for a little short of 100,000 people, as well as £3 billion in tax revenue. But Huddleston echoed recent findings from the House of Lords that there was a need for a ‘rebalancing’ of the industry to address concerns about the social impact of gambling.

DCMS have also stated that they feel 2021 is the ideal time to carry out the review at a time when the emphasis in UK gambling has firmly shifted from land based venues to online betting. Revenue generated by online betting exceeded land based betting for the first time in September 2019 and that trend has continued.

The Minister also emphasised that the NHS would play a critical role in the review. The NHS has committed to opening 15 specialist gambling clinics, although DCMS has also acknowledged the betting sector’s commitment on this front, as the UK’s major operators have contributed a combined £100 million to help the funding of problem gambling treatment and research.

But although the UK betting sector had been proactive on some fronts, DCMS have indicated that stronger controls are required across the sector to goven betting in the digital age.

They add that the review will take a wide view in assessing the evidence on the current effectiveness of online protections, with player interventions and affordability checks, at the top of their agenda, along with concerns about operators’ mandatory duty to signpost players to the existing GAMSTOP self-exclusion scheme.

It is also expected that DCMS will also include the first serious analysis of UK gambling’s ‘consumer redress’ procedures, including dispute and complaint resolution. The Minister said that it would take a diversity of comments on this issue, with factors such as disputes, market cancellations, caps on customer activity and appropriate compensation expected likely to be considered.

DCMS have already taken recommendations made by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee on how to improve the UKGC’s evaluation of regulatory actions, that are aimed at helping the agency to better use available data and intelligence to monitor operators.

At the same time, DCMS are expected to consider whether any changes to UK gambling laws and regulation would produce a significant shift in customer behaviour towards black market operators. But DCMS also warned the industry that the sector would be under a stronger spotlight next year.

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