DCMS to pull trigger on Gambling Act review next week

The Guardian has reported that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) will officially launch its review of the ‘2005 Gambling Act’ next week – undertaking the biggest reform of the UK betting sector since the ‘Blair Era’. 

The review, which was marked as a 2019 General Election pledge by PM Boris Johnson, will review all current gambling legislations with the aim of reforming the industry for the ‘benefit of society’ and bringing the sector’s consumer protections into the ‘digital age’. 

DCMS will publish its ‘terms of reference’ for the review, which will present key criteria that will be addressed, with submitted proposals referencing a ban on betting sponsorships and online casino stake limits that mirror the government’s 2019 FOBTs £2 reductions. 

The review of the Gambling Act has garnered wide-ranging opinions from across the political spectrum, with diverse stakeholders considering how the UK gambling sector should be governed as well as key areas related to consumer protections, safer gambling, advertising, operator conduct and corporate governance.  

Chaired by Lord Grade of Yarmouth, this summer the House of Lords Select Committee on ‘gambling’s social & economic impacts’ recommended 66 critical areas that required urgent action from the government.

The Select Committee report urged the government to fix ‘system failures’ across the UK business landscape encompassing banking, loans and personal finance that had heightened the criminal effects of problem gambling. 

Beyond industry reforms, the review will further carry an assessment of the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) governance of gambling. MPs have questioned the department’s ‘National Strategy and its close engagement with industry incumbents.

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of peers within the House of Lords had undertaken a review of gambling industry safeguards, duties and customer protections to identify ‘urgent changes’ that needed to be made to current regulations.

Chaired by Lord Foster of Bath (Liberal Democrat), the Peers for Gambling Reform was created to promote the recommendations of the House of Lords Select Committee on Gambling. 

Independent of government regulation, the UK gambling sector has undertaken sweeping reforms to its code of conduct and social responsibilities spearheaded by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).

In 2019, BGC members committed to a new advertising code, implementing a whistle-to-whistle ban on all betting advertisements during sports broadcasts.

This was backed by a pledge made by all BGC members to ensure that 20% of all TV, radio and online advertising was dedicated to safer gambling messages during the first and second UK lockdowns.

Meanwhile, UK gambling’s biggest operators bet365, Flutter, William Hill and GVC Holdings have pledged to fund £100 million towards improving GambleAware’s national research, education and treatment (RET) programmes. 

During 2020, all BGC members also committed to new standards on game designs, safeguards on digital advertising and reforming VIP programmes to be for over 25s.

Of heightened concern, MPs have demanded that DCMS guarantees that its review will impose an over 18s requirement on the purchase a National Lottery tickets and scratch cards – following criticism by England’s Children’s Commissioner who alleged that Camelot had abused its position of power.

Reports from earlier in the year have suggested that key figures from within 10 Downing Street, including Boris Johnson and Munira Mirza (the director of the No10 Policy Unit), have also taken a personal interest in the ‘long-awaited’ reforms. 

The Prime Minister is said to be keen on rolling back the legislation introduced by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, which he is reported to believe is a vote-winner among conservatives.

Next year will see DCMS carry a bloated schedule demanded by the government, in which the department will oversee COVID-19 recovery for tourism and heritage, the reform of UK’s digital protections, a restructuring of the BBC and the competition for the fourth National Lottery contract.  

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