The devil is in the detail of gambling reform
28 Apr 2023
Ministers have raised the stakes for the gambling industry in their new White Paper, writes DRD Senior Adviser, Steve Myers.
After prolonged delays, the Government has finally released its White Paper on gambling reform in the UK, High stakes: gambling reform for the digital age.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has spent well over two years to bring this forward. During this period, it has churned numerous personnel, made conflicting noises about the process, and at times seemed determined to kick its reformation agenda into the long grass.
The key proposals include the introduction of a new statutory gambling levy, ‘frictionless’ enhanced spending checks, new stake limits for online slot games, extended resources and responsibilities for the Gambling Commission, new rules restricting harmful bonus offers, and a new industry ombudsman.
On the face of it, the leaks and briefings dominating the news over the last few weeks have meant few surprises. Much of the rhetoric has been on headline issues such as safer mobile betting and checks on losses and these have duly been included in the reform package. But there are some things included the industry will be pleased with, such as a seemingly better outcome on advertising or increased slot machine provision for land-based casinos. However, there is a general malaise surrounding the findings and outcomes of such a protracted process, particularly as the regulator has not stood still during this period.
Against this background, the gambling industry appears to have backed itself into a corner like a wounded animal, and those long enough in the tooth to remember the previous shenanigans around the Budd Report leading to the 2005 Act were at times fearing the worst.
While there is relief in some quarters, this could be short-lived. Experience has shown that any smidgen of hope, any small morsel thrown out by this response will be eaten up by the UK Gambling Commission. The regulator has a history of preventing any such small gains and sucking the very life out of them through guidance or revisions to their practices. The sage commentators understand this, and values of listed entities in the space already have this priced in.
The UK, whilst still one of the largest gaming markets in the world, seems to have lost its way with poorly constructed regulation. It has gained an underserved reputation based on a combination of dubious research claims and anti-gambling rhetoric. The White Paper does little to put to bed these issues.
DRD Senior Adviser, Steve Myers
Within the sector, some are of the opinion that the UK is no longer achieving a fair value for shareholders and companies such as Flutter are looking to desert these shores and set up domicile stateside. Colleagues around the world often look on in dismay at a market they used to admire. The UK, whilst still one of the largest gaming markets in the world, seems to have lost its way with poorly constructed regulation. It has gained an underserved reputation based on a combination of dubious research claims and anti-gambling rhetoric. The White Paper does little to put to bed these issues.
The lack of unity in the sector, and the outright refusal to share data has left operators unable to stem the tide of this media and political onslaught. The gambling sector, sat between alcohol and tobacco in the sin stock register, is currently fighting most of its battles on a stand-alone basis despite much of the good work done by the Betting & Gambling Council (BGC). If the industry is to be sustainable for the future, it needs to smarten up and start building back its reputation, brick by brick. The data exists to do this, and it is time to change from defence to offence.
It is often forgotten that gambling in the UK is already a highly regulated business, with arguably the lowest levels of problem gambling in any regulated market. Who is really getting this message across effectively to the politicians, regulators and the public at large? The 99.8% of customers who enjoy these pursuits without having problems need a voice, while at the same time industry funding treatment, research and wider support services for those affected by a gambling disorder.
Alcohol has shown over the last 20 years how perceptions and reputation can be changed. It’s time for the gambling sector to step up and do the same.