Reports in the UK media suggest that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his close advisors will take the lead on the upcoming review into the gambling industry.
The news is apparently in response to a growing mood for reform of the gambling sector among the upper echelons of the government. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is expected to launch the long-awaited review later this autumn but according to sources in the government, Boris Johnson and his closest advisers were taking the lead.
According to reporting by the UK newspaper, the Guardian, Johnson’s closest adviser Dominic Cummings and Munira Mirza have taken a personal interest in a push to overhaul the 2005 Gambling Act. This law, introduced under Tony Blair, liberalised regulation of the gambling sector, leaving the UK with some of the world’s most relaxed gambling laws.
It is understood that leading figures in the government are pushing for a wide-ranging review that could include the rolling back of large sections of the 2005 act, including potential new curbs on advertising. Some advocates of reform are reportedly also concerned that the DCMS is conflicted over advertising due to the financial contributions to sports teams and broadcasters made by the gambling sector. While the Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston is believed to be in favour of a wide review, Lady Barran, who serves as a minister at the DCMS, last week said that the link between problem gambling and advertising was not clear.
One significant development in recent months has been the emergence of cross-party support for gambling reform, which has coalesced around the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Harm which is led by Labour MP Carolyn Harris, but also includes former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Ronnie Cowan of the SNP. This cross-party agreement also extends to the Lords where a new group called Peers for Gambling Reform was launched this week.
The group is chaired by Lord Foster of Bath and is pushing for new measures including affordability checks on gamblers as well as a duty of care on the part of gambling companies to prevent harm, which could lead to legal consequences if they don’t protect the vulnerable. The Lords are also pushing for limits on stakes, a reduction in online casino game speed and a new testing regime that will more effectively measure the risks of new gambling products.
Speaking about the need for reform, Lord Foster said that a third of a million UK citizens were classed as problem gamblers and that online gambling companies had increased profits and put more lives at risk during the pandemic. He also described the existing legislative framework as ‘wholly outdated’.
In response, the gambling industry has also been attempting to influence the process. The Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council is former Labour MP Michael Dugher, whose close political friend, former Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson, has recently joined the online gambling giant Flutter Entertainment as an adviser. Watson had previously been known as a stringent opponent of many gambling industry practices and played a leading role in the campaign to reduce the maximum stakes of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2.