SBC News UK Gambling needs Keir to calm DCMS at a time of resolutions 

UK Gambling needs Keir to calm DCMS at a time of resolutions 

The Labour Party has overturned a deficit of 127 seats to win the UK General Election, a historic achievement instantly branded with the damp label of a “loveless landslide”.

Apathy aside, yesterday’s ballots saw Labour win 412 constituencies, forming a majority government of 170 MPs, taking the biggest share to Parliament since Tony Blair’s New Labour victory in 1997.

This morning, PM Rishi Sunak announced defeat, ending 14 years of a chaotic Conservative government, overseen by five separate Prime Ministers—a dynamic not forgotten by Labour leader Keir Starmer and his pledge to bring back “normalcy and stability to British politics”.

Stability and urgency are required for a new government to conclude the Triennial Review of UK Gambling, ending a dragged regulatory affair that risks spiralling into a fifth year with no resolutions.

Prior to Sunak’s ‘kamikaze call’ to hold a summer election on 4 July, progress had been gaining towards initial settlements on industry affairs. However, placing the Civil Service under purdah rules, momentum has stalled once more on UK gambling’s future terms of play.

A six-week campaign has interrupted the Gambling Review entering the technical procedures of its White Paper phase, as approved measures must be guaranteed as applicable for the government to safeguard consumers engaging with a £14bn industry.

Balance, sustainability, and protecting consumer choice were prioritised by the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) launch of its pilot programme to test ‘light check’ affordability checks set at £150 per month.

Announced in May, the Commission began its six-month pilot, which from August will initiate affordability checks on customer spend of £500 per month, before reducing spend to £150 from February 2025. 

The pilot endeavours to prove that affordability checks can be applied in a mandatory manner but remain unintrusive for recreational customers, appeasing the concerns of recreational players and UK racing.

Further directives saw the Commission launch an ‘action plan’ to modernise laws governing gambling venues in the UK, in which proposals aim to eliminate inconsistencies of a market governed by the separate regimes of the Gaming Act 1968 and the Gambling Act 2005. 

Resolutions are eagerly sought by land-based gambling venues, which seek for the government to align the criteria of casino gambling rules, to modernise their offering and keep pace with consumer changes, witnessed in wider sectors.

Urgency on the matter was noted by former Labour MP and Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) Chairman, Michael Dugher: “Casinos are a vital pillar of the UK’s leisure, hospitality and tourism sector, and we welcome the Government’s consultation response which is positive progress on the modest, long-overdue but mission-critical modernisation reforms needed for the land-based casino sector to compete and thrive.

“Casinos currently employ more than 10,000 people, contribute £300m annually in tax and generate an estimated £800m a year to the UK economy.”

Yet, topping all affairs, Starmer’s new government will take charge of finalising the structure of UK gambling’s new mandatory levy for research, education, and treatment (RET) of problem gambling harms.

The structure of the RET levy is UK gambling’s most problematic discipline, witnessing a tug-of-war between parties on how a multi-million fund should be governed between the NHS as new commissioner and existing third-party treatment providers.

Tackling a political minefield will require a nuanced approach from DCMS, as the reorganisation of the Levy is recognised as a step change for all parties involved, in which deep divisions exist on how to provide the best treatment of gambling harms and effective research of UK gambling’s social impacts.

Eyes turn to Starmer’s appointment of a new DCMS Secretary, which remains in the dark following Shadow Culture Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire, losing the Bristol constituency to the Green Party.

A Shadow Minister of Sports, Media and Gambling is maintained in Stephanie Peacock (MP for Barnsley South). In previous statements regarding UK gambling, Peacock noted that Labour “carried consensus on reforms with the Conservative Party”.

Yet, Peacock warned of “frustrations with the National Lottery’s funding of good causes” and that industry reforms are needed to reflect “UK consumers facing inflation and cost of living anxieties.”

Initial proceedings will see Labour’s management of DCMS come under the spotlight. A constant chaos reigned over the department under the Conservative government, which saw 14 secretaries lead DCMS since 2010. Meanwhile, the agenda of the Gambling Review has been overseen by six junior ministers since 2019 – with changes exhausting industry stakeholders. 

In 2023, Sunak announced a review of DCMS structure, in which the government drafted plans to limit the scope of the department, moving its remit for tech and sciences to a “Ministry of Science, Innovation and Technology with the aim to turn “Britain into the Silicon Valley of Europe”.

Further damaging incidents saw the department and its culture secretaries (Nadine Dorries of note) involved in unnecessary ideological battles with the BBC, Channel 4, and the Arts Council as the department was used as a blunt tool in culture war conflicts. 

A return to standard procedures for DCMS should be welcomed by all industry stakeholders seeking resolution and regulatory closure by 2025… UK Gambling hopes Keir can deliver on calmer proceedings. 

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