Downing Street seeks central role in Gambling Act reforms

PM Boris Johnson is reported to have instructed his closest advisors to take direct control of the government’s imminent review of the 2005 Gambling Act, steering DCMS reforms and agenda. 

Reported by this weekend’s Guardian, Dominic Cummings and Munira Mirza – the director of the No10 Policy Unit – are rumoured to have taken a ‘personal interest in the review’, which could include an overhaul of large parts of the legislation, including potential new curbs on advertising and the creation of a gambling ombudsman.

“The PM just sees it as people being exploited and it’s not him,” said one MP who is said to have ‘intimate knowledge’ of Whitehall discussions.

It comes amid growing concerns that the DCMS may be conflicted over the financial contributions generated by betting advertising, which provide key funds to both sports teams and broadcasters alike.

One MP, who is said to have knowledge of DCMS, said: “Like any organisation, departments become quite linked in to these industries [such as sport and broadcasting]… They weren’t that keen on changing tobacco advertising back in the day but it happened.”

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has previously been vocal over his support of a wide-ranging review, previously requesting that the gambling sector speeds up its industry-led review, which seeks to consider potential curbs on controversial VIP schemes, advertising technology and game design.

However, speaking in the House of Lords last week, DCMS minister Lady Barran appeared sceptical about the dangers of advertising: “I cannot be specific on the scope of the review, but the evidence is not clear about the link between advertising and problem gambling, particularly among young people.”

An unnamed DCMS official is reported to have insisted that the review will be a collaborative project between the department and No. 10, dismissing any suggestions that Downing Street will be spearheading the review. 

Campaigning during last year’s Snap Election, PM Johnson had personally stated that the 2005 Gambling Act, established under the Tony Blair government, had become ‘analogue for a digital age’.

In its manifesto, the Conservative Party had earmarked an overhaul of UK online gambling laws as part of the government’s wider reform of the UK’s digital frameworks, in which it vowed to ‘legislate to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online’.

As industry reform entered the government’s autumn agenda, the House of Lords established its ‘Peers for Gambling Reform’ (PGR) group chaired by Lord Foster of Bath, undertaking a review of industry safeguards and customer care duties.

Taking charge of the PGR’s review, which will advise policymakers, Lord Foster stated that urgent industry actions need to be undertaken as the UK currently maintains ‘a third of a million problem gamblers, including 55,000 children, and one gambling-related suicide every day’.

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