John Whittingdale, Conservative MP for Maldon and Minister for Media and Data, will take charge of the 2005 Gambling Act review.
Taking over responsibility from Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, Whittingdale’s appointment has raised concerns among campaigners for gambling reform, with some citing the MP’s previous voting record on issues concerning the gambling industry.
Speaking to the Guardian on the appointment, Labour’s Carolyn Harris MP – who chairs a cross-party group investigating gambling-related harm – expressed her concern of the change in ministerial oversight, urging Whittingdale not to be ‘influenced’ by ‘aggressive industry lobbying’.
She stated: “Given the new appointee has a history of being strongly supportive of the industry, I very much hope he will be focused on the evidence and not influenced by aggressive industry lobbying.”
Whittingdale’s parliamentary record includes voting against providing local governments the powers to regulate betting shops and fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in 2014, while also voting in favour of allowing FOBTs at motorway service stations and amusement arcades.
The MP for Maldon (Essex) has previously served as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (2014-2016) under David Cameron’s government.
Despite the criticism, Whittingdale’s appointment has been welcomed by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).
“I’d like to welcome John Whittingdale to his expanded role and enhanced responsibilities at DCMS. I know John well from my time in Parliament and in the music industry,” stated Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the BGC.
“John commands huge respect and he is a formidable politician who brings a wealth of experience and knowledge. The BGC represents the bulk of the regulated sector – from high street betting shops, casinos, online gaming and bingo – and we look forward to working with him.
“This is an uncertain time for many of the more than 100,000 people who work in the industry as we navigate the sector safely out of the COVID restrictions. Our industry wants to play a full part in helping kickstart the economy, supporting jobs and growth, and contributing to the exchequer.
“The BGC has warmly welcomed the Government’s Gambling Review, which is a golden opportunity to build on the work we have already done on raising standards, promoting safer gambling and driving big changes across the industry. We know how important that work is to the DCMS.”
Dugher also paid tribute to the outgoing sports minister, Niger Huddleston, noting the ‘superb job’ he has achieved in ‘challenging circumstances’.
Dugher concluded: “He always understood the importance of the industry to the economy and to millions of people to regularly and safely enjoy a flutter. He was always willing to engage with us, in particular in championing continued progress on safer gambling.
“Given the important contribution the betting industry makes to sport and the ongoing challenges facing sport’s finances, we look forward to continuing to work with him and we wish him all the very best.”