The direction of the government’s gambling review, including controversial proposals around affordability checks, has been thrown into further doubt with the news that gambling minister Paul Scully is moving to another department as part of prime minister Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle Feb. 7.
That news will be a blow to both the racing and gambling industries who will have been hoping Scully remained in his role as he had shown a willingness to listen to the concerns of both sectors, as well as those campaigning for reform.
British racing’s leaders have warned that intrusive affordability checks on bettors could wipe tens of millions of pounds from the sport’s revenues if they were to be introduced as a result of the gambling review.
However, last month Scully told the Betting and Gaming Council annual meeting that it was not the place of the government or the Gambling Commission to decide how much people could afford to gamble and that ministers favored “frictionless” checks instead.
Former culture secretary Michelle Donelan, who had been ultimately responsible for the long-delayed gambling review, has been appointed as secretary of state for science, innovation, and technology.
The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport has confirmed Scully is set to join her, although there is no news on his successor.
Donelan has been replaced at a slimmed-down DCMS by Lucy Frazer, the Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire.
Frazer’s appointment will be considered a positive for British racing. Her constituency includes the July Course at Newmarket and the National Stud, and she is regarded as a supporter of the sport.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said: “We warmly welcome the new secretary of state to her position, even though we’ve had more ministers at DCMS than there are runners in the Grand National.
“We hope that she will listen to the millions of punters and other important voices in racing who have expressed their deep concern about blanket, intrusive, and low-level so-called ‘affordability’ checks that only drive people to the unsafe unregulated black market online.
“These pose a massive threat to racing as a world-leading British sport, one that makes a huge contribution to our economy and national life.”
He added: “Millions of people enjoy a bet and the overwhelming majority do so perfectly responsibly and safely. The problem gambling rate is 0.3% and low by international comparisons.
“Future changes to gambling should target problem gamblers and the vulnerable—and leave everybody else alone to choose how they spend their own hard-earned money and leisure time.”
Scully’s gambling and racing brief is likely to move to one of the other ministers at the DCMS, sports minister Stuart Andrew or Julia Lopez.
The government’s gambling review was launched in December 2020, but details of its proposals for reform have been the subject of continued delays.
Scully has said the white paper will be published “in the coming weeks” and it had been expected to appear before the end of March.
However, there could now be further delays, especially as it had been thought the gambling white paper would appear after government proposals to shake up the regulation of football.
That white paper had been expected this week, but its publication has been delayed to the end of this month at the earliest.