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What You Need To Know About Government's Gambling Crackdown

Experts are divided over whether the plans will be effective and far reaching enough (Alamy)

5 min read

The Government has proposed a once in a generation white paper to clean up the gambling sector.

Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said the Conservatives would step in to protect punters in an age where most people “have a virtual mobile casino in their pockets”.

New proposals include a mandatory levy on betting companies’ revenues, a new industry ombudsman, age-related rules on online spins, and tougher restrictions on marketing and advertising.

Experts are divided over whether the plans will be effective enough, with one industry insider telling PoliticsHome the white paper is “measured and sensible” but not “broad enough”.

What is the Gambling White Paper?

The government white paper titled, High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age, aims to give “proper protections” for gambling addicts. The new regulator will be “properly funded” and help 300,000 Britons who suffer with “problem gambling”, according to the government.

The initial review was launched in December 2020 and has taken almost three years to be published. 

Gambling companies will pay up to support addicts 

Campaigners have celebrated the introduction of a new levy on betting operators’ revenues. The money will be collected by the Gambling Commission and used to treat addicts in the NHS.

Labour MP Carolyn Harris welcomed the promise of a new duty to “fund education, research and training”.

“It is vital that this is managed fairly and that those responsible for the greatest harm, make the biggest contributions,” Harris told PoliticsHome.

Director of Clean Up Gambling, Matt Zarb-Cousin, also told PoliticsHome the new levy was “very welcome”. However, he said “the requirement of further consultation will allow the sector more time to profit from the harm it’s currently causing.”

Financial check-ups for punters

The most controversial proposal is affordability checks. The review will force betting companies to understand if “a customer’s gambling is likely to be unaffordable and harmful”.

Gamblers who lose £125 in a month or £500 in a year may face check-ups to see if they are financially vulnerable. Checks will also be done on binge gamblers losing £1,000 in 24 hours or £2,000 within 90 days.

Conservative MP Philip Davies praised much of the white paper – in particular the new statutory levy – but admitted he was nervous about the new “affordability checks”.

“I don’t question the government’s motives, but the practical outcome and the level of which the affordability checks are taking place are bizarre,” he told PoliticsHome.

“How you spend your money on anything is a very personal thing. It is not for me as a member of Parliament to decide.

“We are interfering in people’s freedoms who have never been a problem in their lives. It’s going to be very unpopular with regular, everyday punters. I think the government are going to find that when you start interfering in people’s lives there will be a backlash.”

The IEA’s Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon said the idea of affordability checks was “fraught with problems”.

“It is not obvious why gambling companies should be the only businesses held responsible for checking if the customers can ‘afford’ their service. Who defines ‘affordable’? How intrusive will the checks be? Why should customers hand over private information to online gambling companies?” he told PoliticsHome.

Crackdown on youngsters betting online

New sweeping restrictions will limit how much punters can spend on online spinning machines. Under 25s could be barred from betting more than £2-per-go, while older betters may be banned from spending £15-per-spin.

Louise Davies MBE wrote for The House explaining how restrictions for young people on “highly addictive fixed odds betting terminals” were “crucial”.

A new body will police gambling

A new independent ombudsman will look to address complaints against businesses for their “social responsibility failures”.

It is expected to be established within a year, with one expected to be appointed by summer 2023.

But there are still concerns over advertising...

The government has called on operators to “take existing commitments” further and move their online advertising away from children. It also welcomed the industry's promise to make 20 per cent of its advertising focus on safe messaging. 

Meanwhile the Premier League announced it will remove gambling sponsors from the fronts of players’ shirts.

Chief Executive of Gambling Harm UK John Gilman told PoliticsHome such proposals did not go “far enough” and criticised the government's “complete failure to deal with the recognised impact of advertising”.

Labour's Harris said her “biggest disappointment” about the new proposals were their “omission of any real promise to curb gambling advertising”.

Taking gambling into the modern era

Under the Gambling Act 2005, the New Labour government imposed an 80/20 machine ratio, which forced places to have five times as many jackpot machines as betting tables.

The new white paper will relax the 80/20 ratio to 50/50 so “there can be an even split between low and medium maximum stake machines". The government will also work with the Gambling Commission to find ways in which people can place bets with their debit cards on gaming machines.

John White, CEO of Bacta, praised the move as it means the “arcades industry can move into the 21st century by accepting electronic payments”.

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