WEEKLY FEATURE: U.K. Mulls Gambling Law Changes, Which May Cause Bettors to Flee

Ministers of the U.K. Parliament are considering an overhaul of the 2005 Gambling Act to address responsible gaming issues, among them stake limits and a ban on free play. The proposed changes could drive bettors to illegal sites.

WEEKLY FEATURE: U.K. Mulls Gambling Law Changes, Which May Cause Bettors to Flee

The U.K. Parliament is considering an overhaul of the 2005 Gambling Act to address concerns over problem gambling. Ministers are considering bet limits, a ban on promotional credits, and even alteration of game features that are deemed to contribute to gambling addiction.

According to reports by the Times, Yogonet, Casino.org and other news organizations, ministers are considering mandatory maximum stakes between £2 ($2.43) and £5 ($6.08) for online casinos. Also on the table is a ban on free bets as a promotional tool.

The Times reported that gaming operators could also be required to remove features from online games that increase the level of risk for problem gambling, such as fast-play games, and proposed “affordability checks” to show how much users can safely spend. The UK Gambling Commission would be granted new powers under the revision, and changes would partially be funded through increased fees on operators.

The proposed changes do not come without possible unintended consequences. The U.K. Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) warned last week that according to new data, a ban on promotions including free bets would push almost a third of customers to the black market while “sucking millions out of horse racing,” according to Yogonet. Research cited by the BGC showed one in three customers (28 percent) said they would consider black-market betting “if ministers ignored their popularity and forced through a draconian ban.”

Some responsible gaming advocates had urged a complete ban on promotions. According to a study by the BGC, though, 69 percent of bettors believe they should be allowed. Additionally, new research conducted for the BGC by the YouGov organization found that 63 percent of respondents found promotions “a valuable part of their hobby.”

Under the current Gambling Act, customers must request promotional offers when opening an account with a regulated gaming operator, and can stop receiving them at any point they choose.

Michael Dugher, chief executive of the BGC, said in a press release, “Promotions and offers are part of the customer experience for any vibrant industry, including our intensely competitive sector, which supports 119,000 jobs and brings in £4.4 billion in taxes to the Treasury. Bans on offers would be anti-punter and would severely degrade customer experience, punishing the overwhelming majority of punters who bet safely.”

Dugher noted that only 0.2 percent of bettors exhibit problem gambling. “A draconian ban would damage a sector which tens of thousands rely on for their livelihoods, by turning punters away from the regulated industry into the arms of unsafe, unregulated black market gambling, where the numbers using such sites has doubled in recent years and the amount bet is in the billions,” he said. “These black market sites have none of the safer gambling tools the regulated industry employs.”

The BGC study shows the restrictions being considered also would slash the horse-racing levy by £5 million, “but the loss of punters to the unregulated black market would undoubtedly also hit other regulated funding for racing such as media rights and sponsorship,” the report said.

“We support the government’s ‘evidence-led’ approach to gambling reform, which is why any changes should be carefully targeted to protect vulnerable players and those at risk, not the vast majority who bet safely,” the BGC said in its report. “Ministers shouldn’t be sticking their nose into how people choose to spend their own money, and the last thing they should be doing at this time is damaging business and sport.”

As part of the upcoming review, the government also will consider relaxing regulations for land-based casino operators, raising the allowable number of gaming machines from 20 to 80, according to Yogonet. Casinos also would be able to extend credit to wealthy foreigners under the proposed changes.

The report in the Times noted that despite the strict changes, a ban on shirt sponsorships from Premier League football clubs is likely to be set aside in favor of reaching a voluntary agreement with Premier League clubs. Clubs would be encouraged to abandon such prominent deals voluntarily.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other cabinet ministers are expected to sign off a final decision on the changes within a week.

Meanwhile, the UK Gambling Commission has announced plans to introduce a new licensing system. The current system gives each gambling operator a dedicated account manager. However, due to increased demand, the Gambling Commission will establish four sub-groups, each dedicated to processing different stages and forms of licensing:

  • The Operating License New Group will process new operator license applications.
  • The Change of Corporate Control Group will process applications relating to changes of ownership and control for current operators.
  • The Operating License Vary Group will be responsible for processing applications relating to changes in existing licenses.
  • The Personal License Group will be responsible for processing all applications relating to personal licenses.

The initial process for applying will remain the same. Applications by mail, however, will no longer be accepted.

In a statement, the Gambling Commission outlined the reasons for the change: “We are changing our working practices to make the best use of our resources. By working in this way, we hope to be able to process applications more quickly. We also hope to be able to resolve queries more efficiently and effectively.”