UK government launches online betting review ‘to ensure gambling laws are fit for digital age’

by Karina Chen Last Updated
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A widespread review into online gambling that could finally alter 15-year-old legislation is being conducted by the UK government.

Currently, the UK’s gambling sector currently runs under legislation from the Gambling Act 2005 and is regulated by the Gambling Commission. But as an increasing number of people turn to online gambling and shy away from the high street, culture secretary Oliver Dowden has pledged a widespread review to ensure laws are “fit for the digital age”.

Indeed, two nationwide lockdowns in 2020 triggered by the spread of coronavirus has meant even more customers have shifted their betting practises to the internet.

“Whilst millions gamble responsibly, the Gambling Act is an analogue law in a digital age,” said Mr Dowden. “From an era of having a flutter in a high street bookmaker, casino, racecourse or seaside pier, the industry has evolved at breakneck speed.

“This comprehensive review will ensure we are tackling problem gambling in all its forms to protect children and vulnerable people. It will also help those who enjoy placing a bet to do so safely.”

What will the review look into

The UK gambling industry yielded £14.4bn last year, with 39.9% of activity taking place online. Yet concerns have been raised for years over how the 2005 Gambling Act can adequately cover an industry that is rapidly switching from betting shops to websites and apps.

The review will take 16 weeks, ending on 31 March 2021, and cover a wide range of issues affecting the industry. The Guardian report that the review will look into a variety of aspects newly associated with gambling in the modern age, including:

  • A sports sponsorship ban
  • New powers to tackle the parallel market
  • Legal redress for wronged punters
  • A mandatory levy to fund addiction treatment
  • Limits on online stakes, prizes and “spin speeds”
  • Tough affordability checks
  • A testing regime for new products

The review is expected to recommend stricter controls on gambling advertising and greater support for problem gamers. It will also “consider the Gambling Commission’s powers and resources to ensure it can keep pace with the licensed sector and tackle the black market.”

Sports advertising and sponsorship

According to The Guardian, the review is also likely to target the effects of gambling sponsorship in sports betting. Many UK bookmakers offer highly-sophisticated online sports betting platforms and marry this with sponsorship deals for high-profile sports teams and events.

Three-quarters of Premier League football teams carry betting company logos on their shirts, while 87% of clubs in the Championship are sponsored by bookmakers.

Betting companies also sponsor major domestic sporting events such as the World Darts Championship, World Snooker Championship and scores of high-profile horse races. The gambling industry itself argues that its sponsorship deals help fund sporting events at the highest level.

Casino gambling

The UK’s casino sector will also come under scrutiny from the review, with a particular focus on how licences granted to casinos since the Gambling Act have been put into practice. As the review states, the government will look at “changes to the land based sector introduced in the Gambling Act 2005, particularly for casinos, and whether they are still appropriate in a digital age.”

The amount of non-remote bets placed in the UK before the coronavirus pandemic reduced by 26.4% in casinos and betting shops. In 2020 that figure is expected to drop further still thanks to the effects of lockdown. This highlights how customers are moving away from the high street gambling experience.

The commission has already acknowledged that problem gambling in online and high street casinos is at a higher rate than sports betting and wants to discover: “What evidence is there on potential benefits or harms of permitting cashless payment for land based gambling?”

Lottery

The UK National Lottery remains the biggest lottery in the country and the Commission acknowledges that it has enjoyed “significant growth” over the past 25 years. There has been an increased shift in online play on Lotto’s various products – something that the Commission has pledged to look into.

Indeed, the UK government has already confirmed the minimum age for buying National Lottery tickets will rise from 16 to 18 by October 2021.

Last year the National Lottery paid out over £4.5bn in winnings to players and distributed their funds accordingly:

  • £1.8bn for Lottery projects
  • £4.5bn Lottery prizes
  • £948m Lottery Duty to Government
  • £307m commission to retailers

Shift in social attitudes

One of the big reasons for the Commission taking steps to look into the UK’s gambling habits is a shift in social attitudes in recent years. The increase of gambling company branding during high-profile sports events, and the transition from high street betting to remote gambling via smartphones and computers, has dramatically changed the landscape of the industry and the potential customer base.

Issues of problem gambling have increased, in particular among young people. Sport minister Nigel Huddleston said: “We’re committed to protecting young people from gambling related harm which is why we are raising the minimum age for the National Lottery. Patterns of play have changed since its inception, with a shift towards online games, and this change will help make sure the National Lottery, although already low-risk, is not a gateway to problem gambling.”

What gambling companies have already done

Much of the UK gambling industry is monopolised by what is termed the ‘Big 5’. These companies – Bet365, GVC Holdings, Paddy Power Betfair, Sky Betting and Gaming and William Hill – hold a huge amount of sway over the gambling industry in the UK. In recent years the companies have stepped up efforts to improve the welfare of customers. The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) revealed in 2019 its five biggest members had pledged £100m to improving treatment services for problem gamblers in the UK – ten times more than the amount initially requested. Firms have also agreed not to advertise gambling products during live sporting events, while in April 2019 a blanket ban came into place on customers using credit cards to fund their gaming accounts.

One of the biggest moves by the UK government in recent years was to reduce the maximum bet level of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 down to £2. This produced a 41% decline in betting shop revenue and also resulted in a 23% relative decrease in the number of problem gamblers who associated their betting habits with FOBTs, according to the National Gambling Treatment Service.

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