The Government has finally issued its Policy Paper “High Stakes: gambling reform for the digital age”.

Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Leisure launched the Government’s call for evidence in December 2020. It has taken over two years for the Government’s response to be published.

When issuing the “comprehensive package of new measures”, Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, indicated that there had been around 16,000 responses to the Government’s consultation. The Government stated that it feels its proposals “strike the right balance between consumer freedoms and choice on the one hand and protection from harm on the other”.

The Government’s main proposals include:

  • A statutory levy on the industry to combat and treat gambling harm and addiction (how this is calculated is not specified).
  • Working with the industry and stakeholders to create an independent gambling ombudsman, which must be credible with consumers and will adjudicate on complaints relating to social responsibility and gambling harm. The Government states that it aims to have the ombudsman established and operational within 12 months.
  • Maximum stakes of £15.00 per online slot spin and £2.00 or £4.00 for those aged 18–24.
  • “Unintrusive checks” (e.g. bankruptcy/CCJ search) on gamblers who lose more than £125 in 24 hours or £500 within a year.
  • “Frictionless” affordability checks for those losing £1,000 in 24 hours or £2,000 over a period of 3 months – with lower triggers for those aged 18–24.
  • Mandatory data sharing by operators for high-risk online customers.
  • A review of the use of free bets, bonuses and wagering requirements, to ensure they are used in a socially responsible manner and do not encourage harmful or excessive gambling.

And for land-based operators:

  • Allowing some larger 1968 Act casinos to increase their gaming machine entitlement from 20 to 80 (at machine to table ratio of 5:1).
  • Permitting casinos to offer sports betting.
  • Taking steps to “free up” dormant 2005 Act casino licences and reallocation of these licences to other local authority areas.
  • High-end casinos will be permitted to offer credit facilities to attract “high rollers” non-UK residents. Credit will be subject to thorough financial risk and anti-money laundering checks.
  • Consultation on the introduction of cashless payments in casinos.

Competitions and free draws:

  • Considering regulating free draws and competitions which have grown massively in popularity in recent years (particularly those with a free entry/skill element) in order to protect players, improve transparency and protect returns to good causes.

The most significant of these measures are the new online stake limits and the proposals for vulnerability and affordability checks at relatively low levels of losses.

Overall, this is good news for the land-based gambling industry at the expense of the online industry. Casinos will be delighted with the proposals to offer sports betting, which has always been a strange restriction. Holders of dormant casino licences will also be delighted to hear that it may be possible to relocate these to other local authority areas in future.

It looks like some of the proposals that were originally leaked have been watered down in the final consultation document. The Government will have had one eye on the contribution that gambling taxes make to the UK economy (£3bn+).

Anti-gambling campaigners will be glad that the Government’s proposals have finally seen the light of day but are likely to argue that the proposals do not go far enough to prevent harm. For the gambling industry, these measures are not as bad as once feared, although the Gambling Commission’s continuing regulatory pressure on operators for not complying with anti-money laundering and safer gambling rules will have already dented their revenues.

Let’s hope that these proposals will go far enough to satisfy those on both sides of the debate. What nobody wants is a further two years of consultation on some of these proposals, or worse still, the next Government including in its manifesto a further review of gambling legislation.

If you have questions about how the Gambling Act White Paper will impact your business, please contact Richard Williams.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.