UK gambling white paper: what it says and what’s still to be defined

The UK gambling white paper proposes several new consultations.
The UK gambling white paper proposes several new consultations.

The UK gambling white paper is finally here, but it’s only the beginning for reforms.

UK.- After an anxious two-year wait, the UK gambling industry has finally been able to see what measures the government plans to take following its review of the 2005 Gambling Act. The gambling white paper published yesterday contains proposals to update British gambling legislation, including several measures that had been widely expected.

However, the paper isn’t the final word and doesn’t offer complete clarity since it proposes several new consultations rather than definitive proposals, which means still more waiting. Stuart Andrew, the new parliamentary under-secretary of state for sport, gambling and civil society, has said that the consultations will be complete before the general election in 2024.

Gambling white paper: key measures

Affordability checks: one of the most controversial parts of the gambling white paper is also one that had been widely expected. The government intends to impose new affordability checks based on player losses. Operators will have to conduct detailed checks on players that lose £1,000 in 24 hours or £2,000 in 90 days. However, the bar for “passive checks” has been set much lower, with these to be mandatory for players who lose over £125 net in one month or £500 in a year.

Stake limits: one of the biggest surprises is the lack of a definitive decision on online slot stake limits. Instead, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will conduct a further consultation of the matter, its intention being to impose a limit of between £2 and £15 per spin, probably with the threshold for new accounts or young players being set lower than that of other accounts. Some operators already impose a £10 limit.

Mandatory levy: a widely debated measure will see the introduction of a mandatory levy on gambling operators to fund research, education and treatment. The funds will go to the Gambling Commission, which will decide what programs to fund. However, again, the design and scope of the measure is to be defined after further consultation, expected to start in the summer.

Game design: nothing definite here either. The Gambling Commission will review design rules for online games, and particularly “intensifying features” that can enhance risk.

Gambling Commission: a review of the British regulator’s fees will be carried out next year to check it has sufficient resources. There will be an exploration of whether the Gambling Commission should regulate prize draws and competitions, and it will give more attention to its expectations for white-label casino operators.

Illegal gambling: The DCMS will explore statutory backing for the current voluntary agreement with payment providers to block unlicensed gambling websites. This could allow the Gambling Commission would be allowed to apply for court orders to force payment providers to block such sites.

Gambling ombudsman: an independent gambling ombudsman will be created to handle player complaints. It will share information with the Gambling Commission to assist with the regulator’s enforcement actions and help protect vulnerable groups. Use of the ombudsman will initially be voluntary, but the DCMS may pass legislation if take-up by the industry is poor.

Land-based gambling: Under 18s will be banned from using category D gaming machines (fruit machines), and the Gambling Commission may change its age verification slogan from Think 21 to Think 25. There will be a consultation on contactless payments and their implications for player protection.

Land-based casinos will be allowed to provide sports betting and will be able to host more slot machines. Larger casinos will have a 5:1 ratio for slots to table games while smaller casinos will be allowed to install extra machines on a pro-rata basis depending on their size and their amount of non-gambling floorspace.

Gambling advertising: more consultations. The Gambling Commission will launch a consultation on proposed controls, including opting-in for online bonuses and other online gambling offers. Messages on gambling harms will be strengthened, and there will be tougher restrictions on VIP promotions.

Gambling affiliates: there is no proposal for an affiliates licence. Operators will be expected to demand higher standards in advertising and marketing compliance from their partners.

Industry response to the gambling white paper

The industry has largely welcomed the gambling white paper, although some criticised the number of new consultations proposed.

Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “On behalf of our many members, the 110,000 people whose jobs rely on the regulated betting and gaming industry, and the 22.5 million people who enjoy a bet each month, we welcome the much-delayed publication of the gambling white paper.

“We need time to consider the full detail and impacts of these proposals, but it is important to recognise the BGC has worked closely with government to deliver a wide-ranging package of balanced, proportionate and effective reforms.”

He added: “We welcome the decision to reject proposals from anti-gambling prohibitionists for blanket, low level and intrusive affordability checks, as well as their calls for bans on advertising, sports sponsorship and consumer promotions, which would harm our best-loved sports like horse racing and football, threaten jobs and drive customers to the growing unsafe, unregulated gambling black market online.

“These proposed measures will mean significant change but hopefully much needed regulatory stability to ensure our members can focus entirely on delivering for customers.”

Flutter Entertainment welcomed the gambling white paper but said it will cost it between £50m to £100m from 2024.

Chief executive Peter Jackson described the paper as “a significant positive moment for the UK gambling sector, raising standards and bringing the regulatory framework into the digital age”.

He said: “We believe proactive change will lead to a better future for our industry and have introduced industry-leading safer gambling controls via our ‘Play Well’ strategy over the last few years, including setting mandatory deposit limits for customers under 25, reducing online slots staking limits and making material investments in our safer gambling operational capabilities.”

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