After two-plus years of speculation, the U.K. government has finally released its long-awaited white paper detailing the biggest reforms to the country’s gambling industry in nearly two decades.
The paper, which includes updates to the 2005 Gambling Act, has passed through many hands since it was first announced in December of 2020, including three different prime ministers—Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and now Rishi Sunak—and numerous secretaries and MPs.
Among the most noteworthy reforms outlined in the paper include new mandatory levies on operators that will go toward public health funds, expanded affordability checks for players and stake limits for online bettors.
According to the Financial Times, the proposals will undergo a series of consultations in the coming months, which will be conducted by the U.K. Gambling Commission (UKGC) and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
However, Stuart Andrew MP, who serves as the parliamentary under secretary of state for the DCMS, said that the reforms would be enacted by the summer of next year, per the Times.
As far as financials go, the proposed changes are expected to slash gross gaming yields across the entire industry by anywhere from 3 percent to 8 percent, and online gambling revenue specifically could decrease by as much as 14 percent.
Modernizing the antiquated legislation to account for advancements in technology and expanding problem gambling checks and resources were two of the biggest points of emphasis for lawmakers, and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer told the Times that the white paper will bring “pre-smartphone regulations into the present day.”
That said, some of the responsible gambling measures, especially stake limits, were a bit lighter than originally anticipated.
Lawmakers indicated that more consultations would take place to determine the exact parameters regarding stake limits for online players based on age, but the proposed framework of £2 or £4 limits for those aged 18 to 25 and £15 for older players is below previous drafts of the paper, which proposed a blanket cap somewhere between £2 and £5. Some operators, such as Flutter, already impose blanket caps of £10.
Expanded affordability checks were also a big topic of concern, as increased living costs have put a strain on a large number of players —some estimate as much as 20 percent— throughout the U.K.
The white paper said that accounts with losses of £125 per month or £500 per year will be subject to “light” checks, using public records such as bankruptcies and court judgments.
Additionally, accounts with losses of £1,000 a day or £2,000 within 90 days will face “enhanced” checks via credit reference firms. The government estimates that only 3 percent of accounts will be affected by the changes.
Carolyn Harris MP told the Times that she’d like to see the changes implemented immediately without consultation, urging her colleagues to “ stop lining the pockets of an industry who’ve had it their own way for far too long.”
The mandatory levy of gross revenue is likely to have less impact than originally feared, given that the four biggest online sites already voluntarily contribute approximately 1 percent of revenue toward responsible gambling initiatives.
Lawmakers have not yet committed to an exact rate for the new tax, which will benefit the National Health Service, but initial estimates have said it could generate more than £100 million per year.
Andrew indicated that additional consultations will be needed to determine how the rate will change for land-based operators, but the white paper did concede for casinos to increase their slot counts from 20 to 80.
The paper also outlined the establishment of an industry ombudsman to help settle disputes related to consumer protections or lack thereof.
One topic that was notably absent from the paper was advertising and sponsorship restrictions—the Premier League, the top sports league in the U.K., vowed earlier this month to phase out gambling sponsorships on the front of team jerseys, but will allow them on the sleeves, a decision which has come under fire as being too lax.
Now that the paper has finally been released, some have already begun to criticize the extensive lobbying that took place—according to MP financial disclosures, dozens of MPs accepted nearly £200,000 worth of gifts and hospitality from operators between 2021 and 2022.
Scott Benton MP was recently suspended after he was involved in a setup in which he offered reporters from the Times, who were posing as representatives of gambling operators, an advance copy of the paper so that he could propose questions on their behalf.
Responsible gambling advocates were mostly pleased with the results of the process, but some indicated that there is still a long way to go from here.
“After a long fight we’ve won concessions on some of the key areas but so much more needs to happen to reduce the horrendous harm caused by one of the most loosely regulated gambling industries in the world,” Liz Ritchie, co-founder of the organization Gambling with Lives, told the Times.