UK PM expected to lead gambling reforms

The UK prime minister is believed to be personally in favour of reform.
The UK prime minister is believed to be personally in favour of reform.

Downing Street is to begin analysing reforms within weeks, while the Lords has formed a 150-strong group to influence new regulation. 

UK.- The government in London is expected to launch a review of the UK’s gambling legislation within weeks as the appetite for an overhaul extends to include senior government figures, including the prime minister himself.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his closest advisors, including Dominic Cummings, have taken a personal interest in steering an overhaul of gambling laws directly, the Guardian newspaper has reported.

Meanwhile, 150 members of the UK’s upper house, the House of Lords, launched a new group over the weekend to push for sweeping reforms.

Gambling in the UK is currently regulated by the 2005 Gambling Act which liberalised the sector under the leadership of Tony Blair.

Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related harm have been calling for the legislation to be reformed for some time but it now appears Johnson and senior policy advisors are also in favour of rolling back sections of the Gambling Act and introducing restrictions on advertising. 

One MP told the Guardian: “The PM just sees it as people being exploited and it’s not him.”

There are known to be differences of opinion within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which oversees gambling.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston is said to be in favour of a wide-ranging review while the minister for civil society, Baroness Barran, has voiced scepticism over the dangers of gambling advertising.

But some members of the government reportedly believe the DCMS has a conflict of interests on advertising due to the financial contribution gambling makes to sports teams and broadcasters.

An unnamed MP told the Guardian: “Like any organisation, departments become quite linked in to these industries [such as sport and broadcasting]… They weren’t that keen on changing tobacco advertising back in the day but it happened.”

Meanwhile 150 members of the House of Lords launched a new group at the weekend to push for reform.

Peers for Gambling Reform plans to demand “urgent action” following the recommendations of a Lords select committee report in July.

The new all-party group will be led by the Liberal Democrat Lord Foster of Bath. The vice chairs are Lord Smith of Hindhead (Conservative Party), Baroness Armstrong (Labour), Lord Butler (crossbench) and the Bishop of St Albans.

It is calling for legislation to be overhauled to introduce strict affordability checks, a duty of care on firms to prevent harm, stake limits and speed restrictions for online casino as well as a testing regime for new products. 

It wants the government to implement a levy on gambling to fund the costs of research, education and treatment, a ban on all direct marketing and inducements and an end to sports sponsorship.

It is also in favour of the creation of a gambling ombudsman “to redress wrongs”, regulation for video game loot boxes, reform of VIP schemes and the creation of an NHS-led treatment system for gambling addiction.

Lord Foster said: “Given that we have a third of a million problem gamblers, including 55,000 children, and one gambling-related suicide every day, action is urgently needed.

“Online gambling companies have cashed in on the pandemic, making more profit and putting more lives at risk.

“This new group of 150 peers from across all sections of the Lords seeks to ensure urgent action is taken by the Government to reform our wholly outdated regulation. It is Time for Action.”

Responding to the launch of the new group, Michael Dugher, CEO of the trade association Betting and Gaming Council, said: “It is important to remember that the vast majority of the nearly 30 million UK adults who enjoy an occasional flutter every year, either on the lottery, bingo, sports, casinos or gaming, do so perfectly safely.

“But one problem gambler is one too many and that is why – like the new peers’ group – we also support reform. It is also why we welcomed the House of Lords committee report into the social and economic impact of the gambling industry earlier this year.

“Since being set up last year, the BGC have introduced a range of measures to ensure we are leading a race to the top on standards. These include cooling off periods on gaming machines, encouraging deposit limits, closing off VIP schemes to under-25s and massively increasing funding for research, education and treatment.

“At the start of the Covid lockdown, BGC members voluntarily removed all TV and radio advertising, and have agreed that at least 20 per cent of those ads will be safer gambling messages going forward.

“Our members also introduced the whistle to whistle ban on TV betting ads during live sports programmes, which has reduced the number seen by young people at those times by 97 per cent. And from 1 October, tough new measures will come into force to further prevent under-18s from being able to see betting adverts.

“We want to go further, however, and that is why we look forward to working with the Government on the forthcoming gambling review.”

Last week, Flutter Entertainment announced the appointment of former Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, as an advisor on responsible gaming. Watson is a friend of Dugher but has been a vocal proponent of reform in the gambling industry.

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