The Big Reveal, Known Unknowns, Yielding the Secrets of UK Gambling Reform

Progressive iGaming platform Yield Sec, by its own definition, identifies, qualifies and quantifies all gambling activity within a jurisdiction. And through the application of its proprietary technology, AI, machine-learning and expert human collaboration, it delivers actionable benefits and value for legal stakeholders. 

Extrapolated from cutting-edge military technology and digital algorithms, the intelligence platform reduces and restricts an illegal operator’s presence by preventing them from marketing and acquiring new customers – or reaching existing ones.

With such a knowledge base and Real World experience, we at iGamingFuture couldn’t think of a better objective commentator and expert than Yield Sec’s Senior Advisor for Government and Regulatory Affairs, Matt Zarb-Cousin, to give us an exclusive and fresh perspective on the likely impact of impending UK gambling reform.  

Accordingly, here’s Matt’s take on the UK government’s hotly-anticipated White Paper, which we hope will update and make fit-for-purpose the country’s antiquated 2005 Gambling Act:

The UK is, according to a recent prominent politician, ‘probably the country with the most liberal gambling laws in the world.’ Gambling has become a political football and as the next general election looms, it is set to be part of the battle for Number 10. 

The UK’s White Paper on gambling reform has been pushed back several times and the focus on what an increasing number outside of the industry considers to be a predatory sector has intensified. Now, with rumours of the publication date being just two weeks away, I share some predictions of the anticipated recommendations and what it could mean for the future of the industry.

Statutory levy to contribute towards research and treatment of gambling-related harm 

This point is something that campaigners have been pushing hard for and I expect that this will be introduced. If implemented, it should be independent of the industry as any sector involvement will likely cause, due to that political football status that legal gambling has in the UK, the levy to be objectively discredited, creating additional hurdles over who is in charge of it – and whether it can be circumvented in any way. 

A levy that is fully controlled by a third party would prevent many of these underlying issues. The goal must be to enable and prioritise more funding for the treatment of vulnerable players and those who have suffered from gambling problems. This should encompass the support of NHS clinics, as well as longitudinal research, such as prevalence studies, to be carried out. These can evaluate the impact of policies over time and help form a structured view of changes to the iGaming ecosystem.

It’s important to also note that the levy would be funded entirely by the legal gambling industry.

There is, however, also clear and significant harm to UK players and audiences, including children and self-excluded (from legal gambling) customers, that is perpetrated by illegal operators, as my work with Yield Sec exposed across World Cup monitoring by the platform in the UK in November and December 2022. There must be concerted and committed action taken across how to deal with the reality of illegal gambling – it’s all part of taking a marketplace view of the UK’s gambling ecosystem. 

Compulsory affordability checks

Another hotly debated topic, and an expected recommendation is the introduction of more stringent affordability checks – or ‘financial risk’ checks. 

A standardised model for affordability checks is essential and must be applied across the sector and the White Paper is highly likely to commit to this. The details of exactly how, and when, the checks take place and where they intersect between the single customer view will be subject to further consultation; however an initial outline of this is almost certain. This will provide much-needed clarity on how operators are expected to approach the Gambling Commission’s guidance. Having clear rules and regulations will allow legal operators to navigate this critical part of the industry and help ensure the safety of players. 

The presence of illegal operators in the UK, and openly available via search and social media ads, is an important point to bear in mind here. Without a clear and consistent approach to illegal, or ‘bad market’, gambling, those players failing affordability will be targeted by criminal operators. That illegal operators exist and are present in the UK is no reason to ‘bypass’ the affordability issue. We simply need to deal with illegal gambling as another issue that affects many aspects of the UK gambling ecosystem, and ensure it always features as a consideration that accompanies new law and regulations. It is simply part of our present ecosystem and one which all legal stakeholders need to act to reduce and remove.

Premier League voluntary front-of-shirt ad ban

A voluntary ban on gambling advertising on Premier League team shirts also seems inevitable and this will filter down throughout all smaller leagues. Even before the White Paper has been published, it was reported that the Premier League was set to ban front-of-shirt sponsorships; while sleeve advertising may still be permitted, with a final decision to be taken in the summer. 

The government could also end the existing provision for White Labels, which would automatically remove a lot of sponsorship, given the types of brands that are marketing in the Premier League. 

Ending Premier League sponsorships will inevitably limit gambling promotions to vulnerable punters, whilst restricting what can be perceived as player endorsements of brands. White Labels also currently provide a gateway to sponsorship for firms that don’t have a UK presence. They instead use this sponsorship to leverage the global popularity of the Premier League as a trojan horse for the marketing of their brands into markets such as China and other countries where online gambling is illegal. A ban will inevitably help prevent illegal gambling abroad – and safeguard gamblers. 

Maximum stakes for online slots

The upcoming White Paper is expected to see a maximum stake limit put in place to align with fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). A hard £2 limit will become more standardised, applying to FOBT content whether it’s in land-based venues or online. While it is likely to have a short-term negative impact as slots are the biggest revenue driver for iGaming, operators will benefit in the long term. This will help players, who may have typically chased losses in the past by increasing their bet size, and help prevent gambling harm, which leads to bad experiences and eventual self-exclusion. 

Having more players, gambling at a lower amount, will be advantageous to the sustainability of the sector.

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