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Will The Gambling White Paper Be Used To Save Face?

gambling legal law conceptThe UK gambling industry and everyone that is associated with it are waiting for the publication of the new white paper which is set to dictate certain new laws that will hopefully tighten up on the strength of protection regulations. Rumours have been circulating over what the new legislation will entail, with some noting a ban on gambling sponsorship of sports teams, limitations on the bets that can be placed on slot machine games online, and more. Of course, nothing will be known for sure until the white paper is published, which is now expected to take place this month.

Yet the constant delays to its release have left some questioning whether or not it will actually introduce anything specifically stringent that will help tackle problem gambling. Various reasons have been given by the Government over why it is taking so long, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war taking place in Ukraine and inner rumblings within Parliament. Could it be that the powers that be are simply keeping this back in order to release it when the time is right so as to distract from other issues? The recent goings on with the partygate investigations, and now the addition of the beergate scandal involving Labour leader Keir Starmer, have many people riled up at the Prime Minister and the Government in general. Could what is included in the white paper publication be utilised so as to turn people’s attention away from these scandals?

Promises on the Publication of the White Paper

new uk gambling actThe UK Government promised that it would undertake a proper review of the Gambling Act 2005, ensuring that it fits in with today’s digital age of gambling through such. This was promised back in 2019, and then towards the end of 2020, it set about seeking out advice and information so it could conduct a thorough investigation. In doing so, a white paper was said to be on the way by the end of 2021, which would provide information on how things will proceed with regulating the UK gambling industry.

Unfortunately, that never came about, and it was pushed back to February of 2022. Yet once again, the publication of the white paper was pushed back to May, which doubtless gave many people even less reason to believe in the Government and what it aims to do for the gambling scene. Gambling charities, as well as campaigners and politicians across the world of politics have recognised that today’s laws are not suitable for the modern age, with the Gambling Act 2005 being labelled as “analogue”. It seems like madness for the white paper featuring details of new laws to be delayed multiple times.

Towards the end of March, Chris Philip – the minister in charge of gambling for the UK – said that the white paper detailing the reform is “very, very imminent”. During questions aimed at him, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Clive Efford said that it is absolutely vital that the 2005 Act is updated swiftly. This would allow the rise of online gambling to be properly and effectively regulated. This led to Philip admitting that online gambling in the UK does pose quite a number of risks.

Excuses such as the cabinet being reshuffled (which was given as the reason why things were postponed to May from earlier on in 2022) just won’t do. Philip may have taken over as gambling minister from John Whittingdale, but does that really constitute a good reason for delaying something that could protect and help the lives of people in the United Kingdom?

Yet it was that postponement that not only made people question the capabilities of the government to stay true to its word, but also reignited concerns amongst campaigners who have been demanding urgent reform. The chair of the cross-party group of MPs examining gambling-related harm, Carolyn Harris expressed her own fears regarding the future of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, who has been an outright supporter of gambling reform in the UK. She said that if he loses his position or steps down, it will disrupt the gambling act review even more.

Are They Simply Hollow Promises?

pledgesBut the Government has been known to utilise other news to save face in the past on various occasions. And in some instances, rumours have abounded about other instances where there is a likelihood that this has happened. Take the scandal surrounding Dominic Cummings in 2020, who travelled across the country during the coronavirus lockdown period as a way of “testing his eyesight”, despite official rulings being in place to stop such activity. Cummings faced calls to resign from his position, both from opposition politicians and members of the governing Conservative Party.

Yet some people thought that this was a story that broke so as to steer people’s attention away from the fact that the Government hadn’t done nearly enough to prepare the UK for the oncoming threat of the pandemic. Johnson and his Conservative Party frequently stated that the UK was prepared for any COVID virus, noting high levels of PPE and so on before the first wave hit in 2020, but this was not true. In fact, by the time the first lockdown period was implemented, the UK was suffering under the strain, and it became one of the hardest hit countries in the world in the end.

That scandal being revealed worked, even if only for a short timeframe, because everyone was focused on Cummings and his unscrupulous activity, rather than Johnson and the Government’s wrongdoings. Could it be that a similar outcome will occur with the publication of the gambling white paper?

So much negativity is surrounding Johnson, Starmer and the entire realm of politics at the moment, that the white paper could very well turn a portion of the public’s attention away from them. In this respect, there is a question of whether or not the powers that be would be doing it specifically to save their own faces. And in this case, what may or may not be included in the review that would cause such a large number of people to be concerned over it?

Rumoured Changes in the Gambling Review

change the rulesAs soon as it was announced that the UK Government was working to overhaul the gambling industry, rumours started circulating on what this would mean. Various suggested changes to the law were mentioned here, there and everywhere, although none of them have been officially confirmed as being introduced.

Advertisements at sporting events was one of the major areas that was being focused on by many. Football matches were labelled as being too much of a promotion for gambling activity, with stadiums bearing banners and players wearing kits emblazoned with logos of online gambling brands. While television advertisements have always been subject to restrictions (products and services that are only suitable for those over 18 years of age can only be advertised after the 9pm watershed), gambling companies were able to take advantage of a loophole in regulations. Should they sponsor a sporting team or a stadium, then their logo can freely be plastered alongside a pitch or on players’ kits before the 9pm time. One of the new laws in the white paper is expected to ban sponsorship of teams and stadiums by companies that have a connection to gambling. This has led to clubs having to discuss alternative forms of sponsorship for the future.

A tighter limit is also expected to be introduced on the amount that gamblers can stake on online casino games. This would bring the laws in line with those that were introduced so as to limit land-based fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The maximum wager on these was reduced from £100 per round to just £2 a couple of years ago. At the same time, it is thought that there will be a ban on turbo spins officially introduced, as well as a restriction on the autoplay function being used. The former allows the reels of a slot machine to spin faster, allowing for more frequent gameplay in a session, while the latter allows parameters to be set for the reels to automatically spin at a specified bet level. Both of these make it easier for players to spend more money than they realise, which increases the risk of gambling problems.

Something else that has been discussed by MPs in recent times is the potential for stringent affordability checks to be introduced to online gambling sites. While depositing funds to a platform through credit cards was banned in 2020, there is still only a soft credit check undertaken at most sites. This doesn’t effectively determine whether a player is able to afford to deposit the funds at a site. A more in-depth credit check on each and every player would likely highlight whether or not they are able to afford to deposit at a site. Yet it does come with quite the invasion of privacy. A player submitting to these checks would need to provide details of their bank balance, when they have money coming in and going out, and so on. This isn’t specifically something that everyone would feel comfortable doing.  There is also talk of the entire industry having a single customer view and sharing information on you between them.

One final rumoured change to gambling legislation in the UK is a new testing regime for online games and betting products. This would involve them being proven as not too addictive before they are made available to online casinos and the like. The more addictive a game is, the more likely people are to play it, regardless of whether or not they can afford to do so. In this respect, checking into how addictive each respective available game is and having a margin on how high the games can reach with regard to this, could be of a large benefit to the industry.

Will There Be Effective Gambling Reform in the UK?

opposing view points about gambling reformOne route that could be taken is to actually not make such significant changes to gambling legislation at all, though. It is well-known that many politicians within the Conservative Party are all for a liberal gambling industry across the country, and many of them have also benefitted from this scene as well. In 2021, it was reported that almost £225,000 in wages and freebies was acquired by 28 MPs, with 19 of those being Tory Party members. Several of those MPs just so happened to speak out against any kind of harsh gambling reform after receiving their perks from the industry, too.

Of course, if laws are introduced that tighten the restrictions on the gambling scene in the UK, then these MPs also potentially suffer from losing out on their perks. There has been talk of there being vast disagreements in Parliament over the proposed legislation changes, and this has been another reason why the white paper publication has been delayed.

It has been commented that those in Parliament often want to run the country as it caters to them, rather than for the mass of people in the country. And limiting the number of changes or the severity of them would, without a doubt, end up doing just that. Yet the main drive behind the changes was so that minors and vulnerable people would be protected from gambling-related harm. Time will tell whether the Government actually does introduce changes that will work in their favour or whether they come good on their promise to write new laws to protect the people.

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