Ministers come and go, but when it comes to gambling reform, we’ll get on with the business of change
After six Ministers, four Secretaries of State and nearly two and half years, the long-awaited Government White Paper on future changes to betting and gaming regulations is finally to be announced. The constant delay has been frustrating for everybody, not least for the 110,000 people across the country whose jobs depend on the regulated industry and the 22.5m who enjoy a regular bet.
When the Government first launched the Gambling Review, back in December 2020, Ministers said they would take a strictly “evidence-led approach”. Recognising that parts of this sector needed to reform, the BGC was established. Fast forward to today and you see a different industry. One that has not only come together but got its act together.
With the creation of the BGC, change had been embraced, not resisted. Whilst ministers have come and gone, the BGC has announced over 80 new measures driving significant improvements on safer gambling. Whether it’s enhanced and independent funding for Research, Education and Treatment, or the ‘Whistle-to-Whistle’ ban on advertising and the huge increased take up of safer gambling tools, the regulated industry has been getting on with big change.
And of course, all of this is in marked contrast to the dangers posed by the growing unsafe and unregulated black market online. The current Secretary of State has outlined the impact the smartphone has had on the way punters like to bet, but this has not triggered an exponential rise in betting many assume. Fewer people are betting in the UK now than they were in 2019. Instead, independent figures from the regulator show participation in betting is stable, and problem gambling rates are low, and have actually been falling.
What the smartphone has enabled is unfettered access to unregulated black-market gambling online. So much so, the numbers visiting these sites tripled during the World Cup. These are rogue gambling operators that prey on problem gamblers, the vulnerable and young people.
Now I know some people don’t like betting. But in the end, it’s about freedom of choice. Millions of us enjoy a bet every month, on sports, bingo, the National Lottery or gaming - and the overwhelming majority do so perfectly safely and responsibly.
It’s also worth remembering that the industry generates £7.1bn for the economy and £4.2bn in taxes for the Exchequer, while sustaining tens of thousands of jobs. It also drives investment into the sports we love, including horseracing which receives £350m through the betting levy, sponsorship and media rights, £40m for the English Football League and its clubs, plus millions more for rugby, darts and snooker. As the economy continues to struggle, I’m confident Ministers recognise this vital contribution.
The truth is, throughout all the changes and constant delay, we have worked extremely hard and closely with the Government to help produce a wide-ranging package of reforms which builds on the significant changes and improvements made in recent years by our members.
From the start, we wanted to see balanced, proportionate and effective reforms that were genuinely evidence-led. Reforms which would further protect the vulnerable and young people, while continuing to use technology to target the 0.2 per cent of adults who are problem gamblers, whilst not (as the Secretary of State Lucy Frazer rightly says) spoiling the enjoyment of the many millions who bet perfectly safely and responsibly.
A particular focus of our work has been to secure genuinely ‘frictionless’ enhanced spending checks which further protect the vulnerable, a new Ombudsman to improve consumer redress, and overdue plans to modernise the regulation of UK casinos - all issues we at the BGC have campaigned for.
Given our previous support for enhanced and mandatory funding for Research, Education and Treatment to tackle gambling related harm, we also stand ready to deliver a new mandatory levy, as well as consult on new stake limits for online slots, welcoming in particular further protections for young people.
We also remain confident Ministers will reject key proposals from anti-gambling prohibitionists who have called for blanket, low level and intrusive affordability checks, plus bans on advertising, sports sponsorship and consumer promotions, all of which would harm our best-loved sports, threaten jobs and drive customers to the unsafe, unregulated gambling black market online.
This White Paper is a once in a generation moment for change. Its publication must draw a line under the lengthy and often polarised debates on gambling. It is evidence, not emotion, which must drive effective policy reform. That’s why going forward there will be a whole host of consultations as to how we best deliver that change.
Politicians (like me) come and go. But whatever happens over the next year or so, whatever ministerial changes or even a change of Government that could come our way, our focus will remain the business of change - driving higher standards in safer gambling, championing the businesses which support so many jobs and growth, and delivering for millions of customers who do enjoy a flutter.
Michael Dugher, Betting and Gaming Council CEO