Gambling reform–perhaps more than most issues on this government’s agenda–has been buffeted and delayed by the chaos of Covid and internecine Tory Party warfare.
But now, with the Rt. Honourable Oliver Dowden CBE, Conservative MP for Hertsmere, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the industry has moved ever closer to sweeping reform.
Why Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? You may very well ask. And what’s Dowden got to do with it?
Well, the chancellor of the said duchy is nominally the second most powerful person–after the prime minister–in government; with the principal task, apart from collecting Lancaster taxes, of driving through the administration’s political agenda.
And Dowden–of the many politicians who have held the post of Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in recent times, too numerous to mention here–is perhaps the man most closely associated with Gambling Reform.
It was under his watch at the DCMS (Feb 13, 2020-Sept 15, 2021) that the Tories launched the official Review of the 2005 Gambling Act, with the intended aim of making the British betting industry fit-for-purpose in this digital age.
Thus, it’s fair to assume that, after all the false starts and promises, new gambling legislation in the majority-UK, already the most regulated betting market on the planet, is imminent with the coming New Year.
Scotland, under its devolved powers, sets its own standards in great part, so upcoming reform of the 2005 act will principally cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Nevertheless, recent developments in both Scotland and Eire (southern Ireland) have provided strong pointers of potential looming legislation.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice), not to be confused with the controversial, mind-altering marijuana substitute, has just published a report urging tougher advertising rules – and an anti-gambling publicity blitz in schools.
“Gambling advertising occurs across a wide range of platforms, including in sports venues, online and on television,” says the Spice report.
“Advertising and promotions, including through the sponsorship of sports teams, are regularly received by those considered vulnerable by the Gambling Act 2005.
“This includes children and those with gambling problems.”
In a “progressive” move, Scottish Women’s Football has banned sponsorship from gambling and alcohol companies, the report notes..
Raising the minimum legal age of gambling from its current 18-years-old, may be one way of combatting betting harms, the study argues; although “evidence for the potential effectiveness of this approach is lacking”.
The report notes that an estimated 0.4 per cent of Scottish gamblers, higher than the average 0.3 per cent in the rest of the nation, could be classified as gambling addicts; while six per cent could be considered as at-risk.
In conclusion the Spice report says that the Scottish government should pay the same level of attention to gambling harms as it does to alcohol, narcotics and tobacco.
Meantime, across the Irish Sea, in the land of Flutter and Paddy Power, Eire’s newly-published Gambling Regulation Bill could, one imagines, be a template for upcoming UK betting reform.
Quite possibly, in Ireland, every type of gambling promotion will be banned.
IGaming will be recognised as the vibrant, independent, growing sector it is, and corralled under its own regulatory authority.
And under the new Irish bill, operators will be banned from promoting free bets as an incentive to gamble.
“This long-awaited and much-needed bill takes a responsible approach to balancing the freedom to gamble with the safeguards to protect people from falling prey to addiction,” an Irish government spokesperson told iGamingFuture.
“[It] provides a clearer framework for operators and for consumers.”
Few in our industry would find much to fault with such a generous assessment.
Nonetheless, for the British gambling industry at least, it’s probably a good time to hold one’s horses, circle the wagons and keep one’s powder dry.
A wind of change is blowing.