The long-awaited review of the 2005 Gambling Act is finally here, more than a year after the Conservatives committed to gambling reform in their election manifesto. For years, a coalition of cross-party MPs, peers and advocates has called for reform of a reviled law that has bungled market liberalization and opened the door to harmful gambling activities.
The government is now moving forward with a review it first promised in November 2019, given the success of gambling reform, particularly among voters in the former “red wall,” Since then, much has changed: a general election, new ministers and a pandemic that has redefined the regulatory environment and government position – not to mention the fortunes of the gambling industry itself. With a rise in revenues, online operators have reaped the benefits of the Covid lockups. The scope of gambling legislation has also been expanded by this change. What originally started as a vague pledge to examine loot boxes in video games and credit card gaming has now grown into a thorough and optimistic review of current legislation.
Virtually every element of the gambling debate is being scrutinized, from player safety and game design concerns to the position of the Gambling Commission, advertising regulations, and the option of an industry levy to finance research and treatment for addiction. The broad nature of the review would be welcomed by most individuals and organizations interested in this debate, and most are likely to support the government. However, we should all recall the resistance of the gambling industry to the 2018 reform of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), which saw industry operators and a sometimes intransigent government department at odds with campaigners, researchers, health experts and gambling-related damage victims. It is therefore essential that the government not only gets the policy right, but also gets the policy itself right, in order for the gambling review to be successful. Three items will focus on this: First, the analysis needs to be unbiased.
Any future amendments to legislation should be focused on facts, not self-interest. This means being mindful of the effect of industry funding on research credibility and preventing the kind of misunderstandings found by the Association of British Bookmakers in their opposition to the reform of FOBT. Second, there should be accountability between government officials and campaigners or lobbyists about the analysis of evidence and the processes used to turn it into reform. For example, in 2019, the largest gambling operators committed themselves to a voluntary 1 percent levy to be administered by an independent charity headed by Conservative peer Lord Chadlington for gambling addiction treatment. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright subsequently dismissed demands for a legislative tax, praising instead the “rapid expansion” of treatment brought about by the agreement, but the gambling industry cancelled the agreement only a year later and allocated its funds elsewhere. Third, gambling is a cross-departmental concern that concerns not just the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but also the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
It cannot be left to the self-determination of the ministry of the supporting government alone. After the DCMS was criticized as “slow” and “weak,” by the Public Accounts Committee, many had hoped that the gambling review would be independent not only of the control of special interests, but also of the DCMS itself. This has not proven to be the case, but it is important that the final findings of the review are the product of cooperation between various departments of government and that DCMS does not seem to do its own homework, both of which will involve leadership and careful diplomacy.
A large number of MPs from both sides are active in the gambling debate and will follow the study with great interest.
And a new party, Peers for Gambling Reform, has more than 150 members in the House of Lords. Only 3 percent of problem gamblers in the UK get assistance, says StudyRead m