In this article, Andy Woods assesses what the future may hold for the gambling industry, given a turbulent 2022.
WW had the pleasure of holding our gambling conference at the Hippodrome Casino on 2nd November 2022. The pandemic had postponed this for a couple of years, so it was wonderful to see everybody back in the same room, debating a number of relevant topics. The major concern amongst operators related to an inconsistent approach adopted by the Gambling Commission in dealing with operators coupled with an overly zealous interpretation of some of the regs, and a real worry over what the future may hold for the industry. It is easier to forget that it was only in 2007 when the Gambling Act 2005 came into force, and that it was proclaimed as a piece of legislation for the future, a pro-active piece in terms of the gambling industry. There is a real feeling that nothing could be further from the truth at the moment. Any references to the Gambling Act 2005 being a benchmark for modern gambling legislation, appear now to be in the dim and distant past and an increasing number of anti-gambling groups argue vehemently against any form of gambling in the UK. There have been Westminster debates, the establishment of an all party parliamentary group, new regulations introduced in March 2022 and May 2022, a new chairman of the UK Gambling Commission, and at the centre of it all, the promise of a new White Paper.
The uncertain political landscape has of course impacted on when the White Paper will be introduced and what it will say!! There may be a certain irony in calling this article ‘What is the future for the gambling industry?’ because I am not sure that anybody can predict what is going to happen. A lot will of course depend on who is in power, and which person is in power, but in the absence of a White Paper, the position will remain the same, with the Gambling Commission interpreting regulations, and seemingly becoming more authoritarian in its approach. In the last ten months alone, sixteen operators have paid out a total of £45 million because of regulatory failures. A future two have had operating licences suspended, and all of this compared to 2016/17, when action was taken against three operators.
Gambling remains a difficult public and political issue. There are omgoing debates with regard to sponsorship and advertising. There are always new emerging products, and major operators and independent operators trying to be as innovative as possible. The pandemic has impacted significantly on non-remote gambling, certainly in the casino industry in London, but has also impacted in other ways on online gambling.
Any delay in the White Paper will see the current Gambling Commission approach remain. This approach proposes tougher sanction packages, increased financial penalties, and a lack of tolerance towards compliance. Licence holders are expected to genuinely commit and learn from failings, otherwise they will be withdrawn.
It is easy to criticise this approach. I find the inconsistency from the Commission alarming at times, and I also find some of the Commission’s interpretations of regulations concerning. Some Some interpretations are not in my opinion the interpretation of a balanced regulator, but are the interpretations of a regulator looking to enforce its own view on operators and to penalise. None of this is to suggest for one minute that operators should be fail to comply with the regs, in particular with social responsibility and anti-money laundering regulations, but there has to be an industry standard approach, and an even playing field for operators so that everyone is clear where they stand. I see too many occasions where operators are penalised under one specific regulation, whilst at the same time, other operators are clearly operating in a very similar way, and it is wholly preferable for a standardised approach to interpretation and operations to be in place.
Operators must however be aware that whilst it is easy to criticise and complain, the Commission is very clear in that if you want to operate with an operating licence in the UK in 2023, you have to comply with the regulations to a high standard, or else action will be taken. How this ultimately impacts on the industry can only be determined by the White Paper and by a clear approach from Government on this point. I suspect we are many months away from this.
It is not an easy landscape to operate in and a landscape that is still full of uncertainty. One thing that is certain is that if you fail to comply with the regs to the highest standard then the Commission will take action.