Following several failed attempts to reform the UK’s gambling legislation and years of delay, the UK’s Gambling Whitepaper has finally been issued. 

Since the promulgation of the Gambling Act back in 2005, the gaming and betting industry has changed significantly in its nature and extent, amongst others due to technological and societal changes, and thus the Department of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the UK issued the Whitepaper under the title: “High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age” covering 6 principal themes/related reforms, namely:

  1. Online protections – players and products
  2. Marketing and advertising
  3. The Gambling Commission’s powers and resources
  4. Dispute resolution and consumer redress
  5. Children and young adults
  6. Land‑based gambling

The Whitepaper will bring about one of the biggest reforms in history of the UK’s gambling legislation and resulted in a lengthy document, containing vast proposals for reform. It should be noted that many proposals remain subject to further consultation although the UK Government indicated that it expects most of the changes to be in place by summer 2024.

This article intends to provide a concise insight into some of the key reforms.

Online Protections - Players and Products

The previously conducted review revealed that certain aspects of online gambling pose an elevated risk of harm to players.

Online protection serves as a technological means of monitoring in order to ensure that certain behaviours, specifically: i) Binge Gambling; ii) Significant unaffordable losses over time; and iii) the placing of bets whilst financially vulnerable are prevented. The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (the “UKGC”) will consult on new obligations towards operators to conduct such behaviour checks at the account level. To mitigate such behaviours, the following changes are proposed:

  • A targeted system of financial risk checks. This system would alert the operators if certain losses were suffered, with tightened parameters on young adults. Data sharing between remote operators on high-risk customers will also be consulted to safeguard players even when gambling on multiple platforms. Steps to ensure a better account verification process are also being consulted.
  • Safer games, by design are intended to reduce spontaneity.  A review regarding the design of games will take place, with the goal to amend features like ‘speed of play’ which can promote risky behaviour. Safer games will also include new maximum stake limits such as £2 to £15 on slot games.
  • Proposed are opt-out, rather than opt-in deposit limits to ensure that customers gamble within their means. Schemes such as the self-exclusion GAMSTOP are to be extended towards the financial sector and online operators shall use data to restrict accounts in response to fraudulent activity. Operators should also remove artificial barriers which ensue an amount of friction on processes such as winning withdrawal and account closing.
  • Potentially non-compliant activities such as ‘White Labelling’ and unregulated competitions (such as having a skill-based element) will be consulted. 

Marketing and Advertising

Within the Digital Age, marketing and advertising of gambling has reached new channels. To ensure control, the UKGC proposes:

  • Whilst the UKGC already restricts promotions towards those with indicators of harm, a further analysis will take place to reduce tactics such as short timeframes in promotions. ‘VIP’ statuses and similar schemes will also by analysed. The requirement of a consent by the player for ‘cross-selling’ of new products will also be required.
  • Advertising must not be targeted towards children and the vulnerable.
  • Opt-outs for gambling advertising should be made.
  • An effort to study safer messaging within advertising will be made alongside the Department of Health and Social Care.
  • A more responsible approach by sports clubs regarding the acceptance of sponsorships from gambling companies will be necessitated. For instance, the Premier League will remove gambling sponsors from the front of player’s shirts to safeguard the younger audience.

The Gambling Commission's Powers and Resources

Arguably one of the biggest changes in the reform is a reform of the UKGC itself, specifically its powers and resources. The following are being proposed:

  • A more ambitious approach to enforcement will take place in order to keep up with technological changes.
  • Illegal online operators will be tackled by, for example, restrictions spanning from Internet Service Providers.
  • Fees will be reviewed in order to ascertain that the Commission has enough resources to execute what is said in the whitepaper.
  • The introduction of a statutory levy paid by operators and the continuance of the contribution towards GambleAware by major operators will be ensured.
  • The UKGC will expand the dataset it collects from operators to further study the effects of gambling.

Dispute Resolution and Consumer Redress

The establishment of a ‘Gambling Ombudsman’ is being proposed which will adjudicate complaints when an operator cannot resolve these. All licenced operators should provide access to the ombudsman and will ensure that all customers are protected equally. The Gambling Ombudsman should be established within a year, with the appointment processing beginning in Q2 2023.

Children and Young Adults

With regards to children and young adults, the following are proposed:

  • To further age verification processes, the Commission will consult on moving ‘Think 21’ to ‘Think 25’ for all land-based licensees. Alcohol licensed premises and such, will be compelled to improve all age verification methods. The Commission will also test small operators in categories A and B to make sure all land-based venues are subject to the same age verification processes.
  • To protect people aged 18-24, the Commission will consult on the possibility of better online financial risk checks.

The Whitepaper may be accessed here.

For more information and assistance on betting and gaming, kindly contact Mr Reuben Portanier and Dr Terence Cassar.

Disclaimer This article is not intended to impart legal advice and readers are asked to seek verification of statements made before acting on them.
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