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Is a Review of the Gambling Act 2005 likely?

The Gambling Act 2005, which came into force on 1 September 2007, made significant changes to the legislation which governs betting and gaming in the UK.  It is easy to forget that were it not for a last minute deal relating to certain parts of that legislation,  Tessa Jowell would not have been able to get the proposed changes through Parliament. There is no doubt that the changes introduced by the Gambling Act 2005 have had a major impact on gambling in the UK but even though it is only 15 years old it is now being argued that it is already out of date.

The view of most experts following the introduction of the Act in 2007 , was that most political parties would be likely to leave the legislation untouched, principally because there was no real political benefit to any of the parties trying to implement any changes.  It was felt that there would be criticism either from the anti-gambling bodies or from the gambling industry  no matter what changes were made.

The 2019 election appears to have changed all of that.  The Conservatives pledged in their manifesto to conduct a review of the 2005 Gambling Act and this followed similar commitments from the Liberal Democrat and the Labour Party. The Conservative Party promised to “make the UK the safest place in the world to be online”.  The general view appears to be that the Gambling Act 2005 is no longer fit for purpose and that the innovations brought in by the industry during the last 15 years  have far outstripped the ability of the Gambling Act 2005 to be an effective piece of legislation. There were particular concerns expressed with regard to problem gamblers not being protected by the Industry, credit card use, loot boxes and a general lack of social responsibility on behalf of the industry.

There have already been some minor changes introduced as credit card gambling is not permitted from the 14th April 2020 other than by non-remote lottery players and the Gambling Commission are undergoing further consultations as this article is being published. Concerns over gambling addiction and the lack of protection for gambling addicts, coupled with an increasing concern about “affordability of gambling” has already been well documented in the press during the last two years.

The Gambling Commission itself has significantly increased the amount of regulatory inspections it carries out and the amount of regulatory cases which are being brought against operators, principally for not complying with anti-money laundering legislation or social responsibility guidelines.  You only have to look at the Gambling Commission website to see the extent of the recent cases and the financial penalties which have been imposed.  Whilst on the one hand the industry argues that AML and SR policies and procedures are constantly evolving to meet the needs of society and the challenges set by the Gambling Commission, it does appear that the Gambling Commission is wholly dissatisfied with the AML and SR policies and procedures operated by the industry in general.

It seems to me that we are quite clearly at the stage now where there is the political will to make changes to the legislation, and that whilst it might not be the most pressing piece of legislation that the Government deals with in 2020 and whilst we may not see the widespread changes that many would like to see, it is clear that there will be a thorough review and changes to the Gambling Act 2005 sometime in the near future.

Those changes will include:

  • A potential ban of certain advertising by gambling companies and new restrictions placed on advertising.  Whether this extends to football clubs and advertising at football grounds is a debateable point.  The Premier League has already stated that it will oppose any blanket ban on gambling advertising, either on shirts or at the grounds, and yet there is growing lobby of those who would like to see this.
  • Increased social responsibility and affordability guidelines and regulations. This may change the overall principle from:

(1) “Does this customer have a gambling problem in any form / are we okay to allow this customer to gamble”; to

(2) “Does this customer have a gambling addition, are we okay to allow this customer to play, can this customer afford to play, how will the customer spend impact on the customer’s finances and how will this impact on other family members etc.”

  • AML and KYC checks will be tightened. The extent of due diligence information which casinos and online operators in particular need to have on those customer who play to a certain limit is already well detailed, but it is likely to see this source of information (enhanced due diligence) extended further.
  • Gambling to be seen as a public health issue, which brings into question, the role of any public health body during the course of any consultation/review.
  • A potential levy from problem gambling funding with gambling addiction being treated in the same way as drug and alcohol addiction.
  • An increase in regulations governing on line gambling
  • Source of funding and source of wealth and the information required in respect of both of these will also be extended.

All of the above is on the back of increased scrutiny by the Gambling Commission, the limit on fixed odd betting terminals being reduced to £2 and the credit card ban on all gambling with the exception of non-remote lotteries.

The majority of national operators have already been through the process of a regulatory review and in some cases, on more one occasion and in many cases, leading to significant financial penalty.  It has just been reported at the start of the February that the Commission has handed out large fines to seven bookmakers for allowing under 18s to place bets on a course and a further reviews with other operators are likely in 2020.

All of the above is of course dependent on the Government have sufficient time in Parliament to implement new legislation.  Gambling Commission guidelines and regulations can be changed without primary legislation so there will be a tightening of controls over gambling operators, irrespective of any decision to change primary legislation and it is absolutely essential that operators keep up to date with any changes to these guidelines and regulations during what will be a challenging time for operators.