Downing Street: Rolling the dice on gambling reform?

October 18, 2020

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

Seeking to modernise and reform gambling laws, the government is placing them under review with particular attention on the Gambling Act 2005.

What does this mean?

The government has recognised that gambling has become an increasingly problematic issue across England and Wales, for various reasons.

There is a clear need to address the scope of technological development since the Gambling Act’s initial introduction. As noted by Jake Shephard, a researcher for the Social Market Foundation, “a gambling law written before the first iPhone went on sale is clearly no longer fit for purpose.” The recent figures published by the Gambling Commission displays the increasing scale of online gambling today. For 2018-2019, the total gross gambling yield in Great Britain was £14.9 billion. Of this total sum, £5.3 bn was attained through remote online platforms. These figures are in line with forecasts that online gambling is growing and will eventually dominate the industry. Coupled with the effects of COVID-19, the urgency to update gambling laws and ensure that appropriate technological regulation is available, is even more pressing. 

When placed under review, what could these gambling reforms look like? The Social Market Foundation has identified several reforms: system controls for remote gambling, a calculator to assess capability to gamble based on earnings and living conditions, and the review of gambling taxation as per the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014. At first glance, such reforms appear to be financially motivated. However, it is evident that they offer protection to consumers, especially those vulnerable to gambling. Legal reform could therefore represent the acknowledgement of social responsibility within the financial sphere of this industry.

What's the big picture effect?

On a social level, according to research conducted at Ipsos Mori and the University of Stirling it was observed that gambling advertising had a considerable impact on the likelihood of children and young people to gamble. The CEO of GambleAware, Marc Etches, declared that “exposure to gambling on social media suggests there is a clear need for better use of age screening tools, to help protect children from harmful exposure.” This support from industry professionals for efforts to protect the next generation of children is a positive step forward.

Moreover, it is not only children vulnerable to the gambling industry. If proof of affordability was required from individuals choosing to gamble, this could go a long way in protecting those vulnerable to gambling addiction. Lord Foster asserts that “a third of a million problem gamblers, including 55,000 children, and one gambling-related suicide every day” is unacceptable. Where reform offers the opportunity to reduce human cost and facilitate a supportive environment, such a move is both justified and highly necessary.

On a financial level, navigating these reforms will require caution due to the various interest groups in the gambling industry. These include bookmakers, casinos, bingo halls, remote gaming: all these sectors have a substantial interest in what these changes could mean. Fortunately, there appears to be considerable cross-party agreement in favour of reform. Whilst the precise elements of prioritisation and focus of such reform remains to be seen, the present government’s commitment to transforming this “analogue law” to one which fits our “digital age” is highly encouraging.  

Evidently it is time for review. In order to bring gambling laws into the digital age, addressing online threats, as well as providing social and financial safeguards will only be the start of the reform needed.

Report written by Karolina Smolicz

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