Speculation continues to mount on the pending outcomes of the government’s review of the UK gambling sector, whose White Paper of Recommendations has been pushed back to July, by DCMS.
This morning, The Times and Daily Mail reported that PM Boris Johnson will maintain his 2019 General Election pledge of imposing significant curbs on the online gambling sector, needed to ‘transform the UK into the safest place to be online in the world’.
The media reports detailed that new controls would focus on applying technical constraints on online operators by imposing “maximum stakes of between £2 and £5 for online casinos, a ban on free bets and VIP packages for those who incur heavy losses, and ‘non-intrusive’ affordability checks”.
The above result would be deemed a negative outcome by online gambling operators that have lobbied for the government to exclude online wagering restrictions and ban promotional incentives.
Further technical controls will require operators ‘to remove features from online games that increase the level of risk for customers’, a requirement that has been met by operators that have pledged to follow the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) code-of-conduct on game design.
Stringent monitoring of online incumbents will be undertaken by a strengthened UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) that will be “given new powers and additional funding from an increase in fees paid by the industry”.
Further reforms will place consumer rights at the forefront of changes to the gambling sector as customer disputes and challenges will be overseen by a ‘new ombudsman’ – a solution favoured by the majority of Industry leaders.
Yet, the government’s rumoured tightening of technical measures will not please gambling reformists as the government will ‘drop plans to ban gambling companies from sponsoring Premier League football clubs’.
A ban on shirt sponsorships had been previously deemed as a guarantee of the Gambling Review that would serve as the government’s most visible industry reform to the public.
The change of stance follows direct feedback from the Premier League, which will instruct clubs to voluntarily refuse gambling sponsorships, allowing the government to keep a ‘sponsorship ban in reserve’.
The soft approach to shirt sponsorships will likely place the government on a collision course with the cross-party Gambling Related Harm APPG – whose leaders Carolyn Harris and Iain Duncan Smith had been promised that football would end its relationship with gambling.
Further points of conflict prompted the media to report that the government will reject plans to impose a mandatory levy on operators’ revenues to fund research, education and treatment (RET) projects and directives – a measure favoured by NHS governors who have called for the UK’s existing gambling harm RET funding structure to be overhauled.
By applying technical constraints on online casino wagering restrictions, affordability checks and limiting promotions, the government seeks to ‘eliminate the risk of customers making unsustainable losses’.
The morning reports estimated that technical constraints could see online gambling revenues fall by more than £700m should restrictions be applied.
Concluding its generational review of UK Gambling, the government is desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2018 FOBTs judgement that led to a ministerial clash between DCMS and the Treasury on the decision to lower machine wagering from £100 to £2.
The embarrassing chapter, saw the government criticised for rejecting DCMS preferred option to lower FOBTs stakes to £2 limit – which led to the resignation of former DCMS Sports Minister Tracey Crouch.
DCMS maintains confidence that it will deliver a summertime conclusion to the review, yet points of conflict on football sponsorship and RET funding may once again delay plans for the government’s marathon judgement of gambling reforms that aim to be declared before Parliament’s summer recess at the end of July.