In an opinion piece on the forthcoming Gambling Act review White Paper, Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) Chair Brigid Simmonds has warned that the UK could lose investment.
Writing on Conservative Home during the World Cup, the Conservative Party’s news and blogging webpage, Simmonds stated that the betting sector is operating under the pressure of rising costs, but also under the scope of increased regulatory attention.
The industry’s contribution to the British economy is being ignored amid the ‘noisy rows’ of the White Paper debate, and the ‘anti-gambling lobby is exploding across the land’, distributing scare stories about the industry, she said.
“However, the facts rarely prevent this relentless hostility,” Simmonds asserted. “And it is, in part, prompting some of our largest members to pursue opportunities in emerging markets overseas, in places like the US and Brazil.
“These markets understand what investment from betting and gaming can do for public finances.If this continues it will inevitably prompt some operators to question where they place their businesses to make the most of a world of opportunity.”
As it stands, it is undeniable that UK betting firms have been increasingly drawn to US opportunities since the repeal of PASPA in 2018 and subsequent rollout of regulated gaming in the country.
For example, Entain operates its joint venture BetMGM alongside long-term US player MGM Resorts, bet365 is active in Colorado, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and Betfred US is also a familiar face stateside.
Firms are also looking to Brazilian opportunities – Entain’s Unikrn esports brand recently relaunched in the country – but the situation is a little unclear due to former President Jair Bolsonamo’s failure to regulate the industry in December 2023.
In Simmonds view, this does not change the fact that UK betting is facing a hostile environment ahead of its regulatory judgement, something that was evident during the World Cup.
Earlier in the tournament, Simmonds wrote that ‘emotions are running high’, and that gambling reformists were finding ‘extreme reasons’ to claim that the World Cup was causing harm.
In her ConservativeHome article, the BGC Chair argued that ‘myths’ are feeding into ‘commonly held narratives that are fundamentally incorrect’, and could prove damaging to UK gambling and its economic contribution.
With the UK government’s final judgement on the future of regulated gambling apparently due in the coming months, Simmonds advised policymakers to look at overseas examples.
This is something the BGC has often cited, for example, John Spellar MP, writing in The House for the trade body, pointed to the 66% and 57% of French and Italian stakes being with illicit firms since strict regulations were introduced.
This was something Simmonds also touched on, reiterated the BGC’s warning to legislators that they risk driving customers towards unregulated black market operators with measures such as blanket affordability checks.
“Our members know the job facing the prime minister and chancellor is unprecedented. No one would envy their in-trays,” she remarked.
“But there is one clear way they can help, rather than hinder the public purse. And that is not to take a sector currently filling the Treasury’s coffers and shackle it with draconian regulations that stunt growth and investment while threatening jobs.
“From what we see overseas, we know overbearing regulations, like blanket affordability checks, and bans on advertising don’t help problem gambling rates.”