UK gambling reform: explainer
Last April, the UK’s Secretary of State for DCMS, Lucy Frazer, unveiled the Gambling Act Review White Paper in the House of Commons. The white paper had been a long time coming – and is the most transformative review of gambling in the UK in 18 years, following the review of the Gambling Act 2005.
The unveiling of the gambling reform white paper was followed by the launch of public consultations in July. For these consultations, the UK government invited the gambling industry, clinicians, academics and those with first-hand experience of harm, and the general public, to share their views on how to best conduct financial risk checks for problem gambling and at what level stake limits should be set for people playing online slot games.
At the launch of public consultations, Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew said that the Gambling Act Review White Paper is intended to update gambling laws and make them fit for the smartphone era: “Slot machines in casinos, arcades and betting shops have strict stake limits but very similar games online have none, which can lead to very large and rapid losses of money. Today we are launching a consultation for a range of views on what the stake limit should be. I encourage you to have your say.”
According to NHS England surveys, 8.5 per cent of those playing online slots, casino and bingo report experiencing problem gambling – and this is nearly 20 times higher than the adult population average. Moreover, Public Health England research shows that younger adults can be particularly vulnerable to gambling harms, due to a combination of ongoing cognitive developing and the experience of managing money for the first time.
But how does the Gambling Act Review White Paper tackle such issues?
Some of the more critical changes include affordability checks – and the proposal says that players who lose £1,000 within 24 hours, or £2,000 over a period of 90 days, will be subject to detailed checks on affordability. Also, the operators will also play an important role, as they will need to perform passive checks on players who have a net loss of over £125 each month, or £500 per year.
Stake limits of between £2 and £15 per spin are also being proposed – and lower thresholds would apply to new accounts. To further protect players, advertising controls would enable customers to opt-in for online bonuses and other gambling offers, while informational messaging on gambling harms are set to be made stronger and more effective.
Land-based casinos would also be impacted by new regulations. While the online casino sector has achieved significant growth in the past years, the land-based sector has lost a lot of its appeal – and this is partly due to the fact that they continue to operate under outdated rules. With the proposed reform, land-based casinos will be in a position to achieve growth, while still protecting customers. Therefore land-based casinos will be allowed to offer sports betting at their premises, while the limits on the number of slot machines in larger casinos will be eased. The option for contactless payments will also be considered, following consultations on the effect this would have on player protection.
The reform also proposes stronger regulations – and the creation of an operationally independent gambling ombudsman to address complaints from players. Information collated by the ombudsman will allow the GB Gambling Commission to enact more targeted enforcement activity, and help the industry to support vulnerable groups.
Also, a greater effort will be made to tackle the black market. Currently, there is a voluntary agreement with payment providers, in which illegally-operating gambling websites are blocked. The white paper proposes giving this statutory backing, meaning that the Commission would be allowed to apply for a court order to force providers to block these sites.