The head of the gambling sector’s standards body has said he hopes ministers have listened to both his industry and to British racing over the controversial subject of affordability checks as the wait for the gambling review white paper draws closer to its conclusion.
December 8 marks two years since the government launched the review which it promised would make regulation of the sector “fit for the digital age”, and Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher said he hoped the long-awaited proposals would provide much-needed clarity.
The white paper has been the subject of continued delays, many of them caused by the turmoil which engulfed the government during the summer and autumn, leading to the resignations of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss as prime minister.
There have also been five gambling ministers since the review was launched, the latest being Paul Scully, who told the GambleAware Conference in London on Wednesday: “We are committed to the review and I am aware that delays to the white paper have been difficult. I am pleased to confirm that we are keen to publish it in the coming weeks.”
Dugher said events in Westminster had not helped the gambling review progress, but added the complexity of issues surrounding the subject had been a factor as well.
He added: “There’s a lot at stake for the government, for the exchequer, for the betting industry and also, crucially, for sports like racing.
“A lot of this stuff is technically complex and is politically controversial. There are reasons why this hasn’t been done up to now.”
One of the most complex and controversial proposals expected to be included in the white paper is affordability checks for bettors.
British racing’s leadership has warned that blanket, intrusive affordability checks—requesting private financial information such as bank statements and tax returns—could drive punters away and cost the industry as much as £100 million a year in revenues at the levels called for by gambling reform campaigners.
While the wait goes on for the government’s proposals, operators have already brought in their own checks under pressure from the Gambling Commission.
Dugher said: “All of this—and you can see it in all the results coming out from the companies—is costing the industry serious money.”
He added: “I would like to think the government has listened to our industry and has also listened to racing and is trying to get this right.
“I have some sympathy with them because it is not easy, and we have had good engagement with the government.
“I think if this was a race, it has felt like a three-miler in the depths of winter, but I think we are approaching the final fence—and that is really getting the affordability framework right.”
In his speech Scully said gambling policy and regulation had not waited for the review and there had been “a lot of action to tighten protections in the last few years”.
Dugher said the BGC supported the review and had made proposals for change itself, such as calls for an ombudsman to improve consumer redress, changes to sports sponsorship and advertising, as well as the promotion of safer gambling tools.
He added: “The industry has changed and has made significant changes and has called for further changes in the white paper; we have just got to get them right.”
A winning ticket at Goodwood
Although time is running out for the white paper to be published before Christmas, it is expected to appear in the new year, although that will be the beginning of the next phase of the process.
“We hope to get as much clarity as possible from the white paper,” Dugher said. “The uncertainty is bad for business. Equally, the white paper is an important marker on the journey, it isn’t an end of the road. We expect there to be further consultations on a whole bunch of areas.”
Shadow gambling minister Alex Davies-Jones also spoke at the GambleAware conference, where she described her concerns at the gambling review’s delay and the “lax attitude of the government in bringing forward the white paper”.
She added: “I am slightly encouraged by the comments by the minister earlier today and some of his commitments, but sadly these commitments have been made before and the government has been far too long on rhetoric and very short on action.”
Davies-Jones said the UK had one of the biggest gambling markets in the world and that there was an “incredibly important balance to strike”.
She added: “We all want to see operators doing the right thing, and indeed some of them are, but without legislation in place, then I fear we will see very little change.”