Carpe Diem – DRD’s perspective on the House of Lords’ Report: ‘Gambling Harm – Time for Action’

9 July 2020

DRD Senior Advisor Steven Myers, who has close to 20 years experience in the gambling industry, has written on the potential implications of the recent House of Lords report on gambling and what this could mean for legislative change in the sector soon.

Since last week’s publication of the House of Lords ‘Gambling Harm – Time for Action’ report, the industry faces a critical time as operators and their advisors count down the clock to the Government’s response. Many operators will be considering how best to respond as the industry questions how many of the report’s 65 recommendations will actually be implemented, and when, as they vary from sensible provisions to some which are outright draconian in nature. For those that sense an increasingly cross-party anti-gambling agenda is at play, this latest effort will not have damped those suspicions.

The mention of further annual levies, speed of play, affordability checks and cooling off periods should be enough to prompt the industry into a robust defence. Understandably, the BGC (Betting and Gaming Council) has cautiously welcomed the Report without agreeing to all its recommendations and we will now wait to see what the Government’s own response is.

However, if the industry is to have a sensible debate and achieve pragmatic regulation out of all of this, its past track record leaves something to be desired. A fragmented approach by online sports betting to betting shops and casinos has to date created a divided and disjointed approach proving woefully ineffective.

The newly formed BGC, the first body to speak for (most of) the gambling industry, should at least have a head start in this respect. Whether members can agree its position for the greater good will be a real test so early in its formation, especially where some of the recommendations could be divisive to the different forms of gambling.

The BGC, however, now has the opportunity to show its true credentials by trying to unite the industry around a common platform to give some push back to this Lord’s report and, in due course, the Government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act. But more than ever, individual companies also need to ensure they are protected for the inevitably tougher times ahead. Those not properly prepared will likely face enhanced powers from the Gambling Commission and Local Authorities producing further turmoil amongst the ranks.

Nevertheless, the political direction of travel should worry operators. Whilst a lone House of Lords or solitary All Party Parliamentary Group report should not cause undue consternation, the mood music in Parliament across the parties points towards much more rigid and targeted legislative change, likely to have a severe impact on business. Worse still, legislative and regulatory changes in the UK that are perceived by policymakers to be beneficial could easily start to creep in across other jurisdictions too.

Getting ahead of some of the more realistic recommendations from the Lords would be a sensible first step. With a significant chunk of gambling advertising now focused on responsible gambling, the companies that do self-regulate and promote their proactive response to law-makers concerns may weather the forthcoming storm better than their peers.

It is likely that risk will increase, rewards will reduce, and reputations will be affected. Carpe Diem…