Two years, three months, and 28 days. That is how long it’s been since the UK government’s then culture secretary first announced a review into gambling.
And we are all still waiting for the results. It feels like there have been at least 50 ministers responsible for gambling in that time, as well as three whole prime ministers.
The white paper on this topic has been sent to the back of the filing cabinet under each PM, all of whom had more pressing priorities.
These have ranged from negotiating Brexit and navigating an unprecedented global health crisis, to partying during a police-enforced public lockdown and trying to outlast a lettuce.
Each of the above had one thing in common, despite varying degrees of success; they were all deemed more important than publishing new regulations for gambling in Great Britain.
People are rightly pissed off with the delay, which has primarily impacted two groups.
On the one side, you have the nation’s regulated gambling industry, which has been left in limbo over its future operating conditions, and uncertainty is never good for business.
“I, meanwhile, count myself as a not-so-proud member of a third group – the I Am Just So Sick And Tired Of Hearing About The Gambling Act Review group. It is free to join, by the way.”
On the other side you have gambling reform campaigners and disordered gamblers, many of whom were chauffeured down the long road to ruin by the industry’s biggest brands.
I, meanwhile, count myself as a not-so-proud member of a third group – the I Am Just So Sick And Tired Of Hearing About The Gambling Act Review group. It is free to join, by the way.
The government’s review of gambling regulation has taken such a long time that people on all sides have become numb to the very mention of it. We’re just so bored of waiting.
Because of that, the impact of the new regulations will be greatly reduced. It doesn’t help that they have been drip fed for the best part of 850 days to serve interests on both sides.
We already know what is going to happen. Premier League clubs will agree to remove betting logos from shirts, a mandatory levy for RET services will be enforced, and affordability checks will be tightened. But most of these have already happened.
So often in this industry the devil is in the detail, but that might not be the case this time around, and we could be staring down the barrel of an almighty anti-climax.
It will be just like going out on New Year’s Eve. All that anticipation, all that excitement and all that sense of occasion, only to be deeply disappointed by a damp squib of a non-event.
“So often in this industry the devil is in the detail, but that might not be the case this time around, and we could be staring down the barrel of an almighty anti-climax.”
Spontaneous nights out are the ones we remember. Those with no expectation and no pre-planning. Perhaps the government should go rogue and introduce an overnight ban on gambling on horse racing.
That would spice things up a bit, if only for the reaction of the Racing Post.
There is is no danger of that though. Sunak has already shown his pro-business approach as chancellor and the treasury needs every pound it can get. He is also constituency MP for Catterick Racecourse in North Yorkshire, so please put down your pitchforks. I was only joking.
When it does eventually get published, when we’re grey and old, the review’s recommendations are likely to dissatisfy both sides of the debate.
The best result for the rest of us is that we will no longer have to hear about it.
Proposals to reform the UK gambling sector have been delayed until a new leader of the Conversative Party has replaced Boris Johnson as prime minister.
Johnson resigned on 7 July, one day after the resignation of gambling minister Chris Philp, who quit in protest at his leadership alongside dozens of dissenting Tory party MPs.
Advisers to Johnson have decided that the government’s gambling review white paper, which was scheduled to be released next week, must now be postponed until a new leader has been identified. Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are all still in the running.
Reports suggest that senior adviser David Canzini has played an influential role in the decision to delay publication. According to the Daily Mail, Canzini was the director of a firm which counted Entain-owned Ladbrokes Coral among its clients until February.
The latest postponement marks the fourth delay in publishing the white paper, which has angered both politicians and activists that are battling for reform.
There is a big tussle going on in govt right now about whether to launch the gambling white paper on Tuesday.
Gambling lobby wants a delay in the hope the new PM will water down the whole thing, so they're activating their MPs. https://t.co/3wrWSnLC7Y
— Rob Davies (@ByRobDavies) July 14, 2022
The government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act began in 2019, when then-Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden pledged to make gambling regulation “fit for the digital age”.
Indeed, the biggest reforms are expected to impact the online sector.
Industry newsletter Earnings+More published an exclusive this week on some of the proposals after the first draft of the white paper was leaked.
The leak revealed potential background checks on punters at net losses of £125 per month or £500 per year, as well as more detailed affordability checks for losses of £1,000 within 24 hours or for a £2,000 net loss over a 90-day period.
Online slot stakes are also expected to be capped at between £2 and £5 per spin.
Betting markets are calling Mordaunt the winner (8/13, versus 10/3 Sunak and 9/2 Truss). Extraordinary
— Robert Peston (@Peston) July 14, 2022
UK trade body the Betting and Gaming Council has said: “We welcome the government’s gambling review and we strongly support many of the measures we expect to be in the forthcoming white paper. Indeed, we have campaigned for many of them.
“On behalf of the 119,000 people whose jobs depend on the regulated betting and gaming industry, we will of course study the white paper when it is published, consider the impact it might have, and respond accordingly.”
The extended delay will do little to improve the share price fortunes of publicly listed UK gambling companies, including Flutter Entertainment, Entain and 888 Holdings, which have posted year-to-date stock declines of 36%, 34% and 50% respectively.
Investors have been seeking clarity regarding the limits stated in the white paper for some time now.
They are now being made to wait until September at the earliest.
Picture by Tim Hammond/No 10 Downing Street
Marcus Boyle has come out swinging in his first public statement as chairman of the Gambling Commission, promising stricter enforcement action against failing licensees.
Boyle was hired last September to replace former chair Bill Moyes, whose tenure was tarnished by the collapse of Football Index. That sorry episode also led to the departure of former CEO Neil McArthur, who was replaced on an interim basis by Andrew Rhodes.
Rhodes has now been handed the position on a permanent basis and the Commission is seeking to step up its enforcement powers to coincide with findings from the UK government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act.
The UK is already one of Europe’s strictest markets from a regulatory perspective, but Boyle has pledged to clamp down heavily on operators that breach licence conditions on more than one occasion.
Gambling Commission chair Marcus Boyle: “Recent investigations reveal cases with jaw-dropping examples of substantial amounts being taken from individuals who cannot afford to wager such sums.”
Authoring an op-ed for The Times over the weekend, Boyle wrote: “A key area is increasing the impact of sanctions imposed on persistently failing operators. Recent investigations reveal cases with jaw-dropping examples of substantial amounts being taken from individuals who cannot afford to wager such sums.
“Our enforcement has led to operators paying out more than £130m in the past five years, but this clearly is not a sufficient deterrent. Consequently, operators can expect to see cumulative sanction packages, with not only increased financial penalties, but also a suite of sanctions aimed at changing behaviour.”
These will include fines based on a percentage of customer takings, as well as short and long-term suspensions and the addition of significant conditions to UK operating licences.
“We will expect full board oversight and personal accountability through increased personal management gambling licences at strategic and operational levels,” continued Boyle.
“And we will not tolerate an attitude of lowest possible compliance being sufficient. We expect our licence holders to genuinely commit and learn from failings.
“Licences will be withdrawn where standards are not met, meaning that individuals could not hold senior positions in the industry.
“Licence holders should aim for the highest standards,” he added.
The UK government’s review should be published imminently and is expected to result in wide-ranging reform for the regulated sector, including a potential ban on Premier League shirt sponsorships and a stake limit of £2 per spin for online slots.