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The Gambling White Paper finally sees the light of day

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer
27 April 2023
Public Affairs
culture secretary

After four delays, six gambling Ministers, three Culture Secretaries and three Prime Ministers, the long awaited Gambling White Paper was finally published today.

The use of smartphones has made access to gambling a lot easier, with regulation and government policy falling behind the digital age. No longer do individuals have to physically go to a betting shop on the high street, it’s a 24/7 option online. On the one hand charities have long-called for reform and measures to limit the amount people can potentially lose in one go, with no affordability checks in place and for tighter regulation of the sector overall. Meanwhile, others have pointed to the need to ensure regulations don’t infringe on people’s freedoms, and address the gap between regulation impacting the online versus the brick-and-mortar sites.

The review of gambling laws was first announced in 2020 by former Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and is the biggest overhaul of the rules governing the sector since the Gambling Act in 2005. While the planned changes have been welcomed by many, Parliamentarians who have called for reform, there won’t be changes to advertising and marketing which has been criticised by campaigners who believe it should be curbed – especially around sporting events. That said, the hefty paper – some 268 pages long – finally addresses some of the much needed modernisations to make regulation fit for the digital age and allow for more collaboration with industry and evidence gathering.

The White Paper includes plans for a levy on gambling companies who would have to pay 1% of any profits and could be used to fund NHS treatments for gambling addicts; maximum stakes for online slot machines; and affordability checks to stop problem gamblers.

However, there is discontent on the backbenches over the details of the Paper and plans for future consultation on new regulations. The severe delay already experienced has soured stakeholders’ expectations for implementation of most of the measures by Summer 2024.

Lucy Powell, Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary, said “ministers have dragged their feet with the chaos we’ve seen in government meaning many false starts. We’ve had ten different ministers in charge of gambling policy since a White Paper was first promised in December 2020.”

Lord Foster of Bath (Liberal Democrat), Chair of the Peers for Gambling Reform group, expressed his shock toward the number of proposals being subject to further consultation.

For the gambling industry, some firms have met the pending regulation changes head on and have already implemented measures such as spending limits for slot machines. Some had already had Codes of Conduct in place on protecting children and had progressed with innovative protections for vulnerable customers. The big question is, will the White Paper really make the sector fit for the digital age and be implemented to acknowledge the need for different regulation for online versus land-based?

Already gambling companies have issued their media comments broadly welcoming the publication of the White Paper and supporting its ambitions while asking for proportionate action to ensure that those industries serving communities and providing jobs are supported.

Betting and Gaming Council Chief Executive Michael Dugher has said: "We want to see balanced, proportionate and effective reforms... whilst not spoiling the enjoyment of the overwhelming majority who bet perfectly safely and responsibly.”

What we have seen today is a step towards protecting customers, while also helping the sector strike a balance between acting responsibly and not stifling an industry contributing significant sums to the economy and providing a popular pastime.