On the 12th of December voters in the UK will take to the polling booths for the 3rd time in just over 4 years. At the heart of the matter lies a course for Brexit that remains unsteady and uncertain. On the run up to what could become the most significant General Election in decades the UK is united only by name and now sits as a country divided, standing on the brink of what could turn out to be deeper, more profound divisions.
Now that each of the major parties have released their manifestos, we have been able to take the time to consider what changes might be heading for the gambling industry. We’ll be taking a look at the main parties, those with the most realistic chance to bring about change within the sector.
It is important to note that gambling, whilst a massively contentious within the UK just now, does not appear to be one of the key areas for voter engagement amongst the major parties and as such much of the content delivered within the manifestos is somewhat woolly, to say the least.
Additionally, the potential for deeper permutations resulting from more of the same, a second EU referendum, the results of a second EU referendum, Brexit, no deal Brexit, a Scottish Independence referendum and results of that.
The last of the big 3 parties in the UK to release their manifesto were the Conservatives, the party currently in power. After some digging, I managed to find a few snippets on the subject:
“We will continue to take action to tackle gambling addiction.”
“Also, given how the online world is moving, the Gambling Act is increasingly becoming an analogue law in a digital age. We will review it, with a particular focus on tackling issues around loot boxes and credit card misuse.”
Both statements are likely to be found in each manifesto. The call for an updated gambling act has been loud enough that I would expect each of the major parties to pledge for its revision. It is widely accepted that the 2005 act came into force before online gambling looked as it does today. The wide-ranging reach and the subsequent impact of online gambling was not considered before 2005, which meant that measures surrounding advertising and age restrictions have led to cases of underage gambling and blurred lines surrounding advertising and the avenues, such as social media, that those adverts could take to reach consumers.
The stress on loot boxes also highlights concerns that many have over what actually constitutes gambling. Loot boxes did not exist in 2005 and since their conception the traditional wagering of money or something worth money on an unknown outcome is not as straight forward as it might have once been. The debate around what constitutes gambling and is one that has seen significant growth over the last 2 years and is likely to be one that will rage on until reforms are agreed.
What is most significant about the wording in the Conservative Manifesto is that the Gambling Act will be up for “review”. If significant changes were guaranteed then the act would undergo more than just a review, which suggest, unsurprisingly, that you would see the least change if the status quo was maintained.
However, a Conservative majority would guarantee Brexit, most likely under the terms of the previously negotiated deal. What this would mean is difficult to judge, which means that the UK would find itself a situation where fewer short-term changes would likely bring greater long-term change.
Liberal Democrats Manifesto
The Liberal Democrats have been much more explicit with the changes that they have proposed, providing the following statement and bullet-pointed list of changes that they would look to enforce:
”There are 340,000 problem gamblers in the UK including some 55,000 children aged 11 to 16. The Liberal Democrats will introduce further measures to protect individuals, their families and communities from problem gambling. We will:”
“Introduce a compulsory levy on gambling companies to fund research, education and treatment of problem gambling.
Ban the use of credit cards for gambling.
Restrict gambling advertising.
Establish a Gambling Ombudsman.”
The first change will essentially see an even higher rate of tax for operators, with a chunk of that being used for the purposes of research and treatment. The UK already has one of the highest tax rates for operators in Europe and this additional levy will mean that smaller businesses will find breaking into a hugely competitive market even more difficult.
As things stand some of the big names in UK gambling have already voluntarily offered up payment for the purpose of funding of “research, education and treatment of problem gambling.” Whilst a Lib Dem government seems extremely unlikely, they could help to form a government with another minority party if no clear majority emerges. If this was to happen there is a chance that this levy could be implemented and it would be interesting to see how close it is to the one that has been spent by those operators in the UK who can most afford it.
Unlike the Conservative manifesto the Liberal Democrats will do more than just review the use of credit cards, they will outright ban the use of them to fund any gambling wallet. Whilst changes are happening surrounding the use of credit cards in the UK they have been at the behest of individual banks and building societies and so far the furthest they have gone is down the self-exclusion route, with a longest minimum period of exclusion sitting at 2 days.
I suspect that a complete ban on the use of credit cards is only a few years away, regardless of who finds themselves in number 10. The difference being that with a Conservative government the change is likely to come as a period of slowly evolved polices.
The one vague element of the statement is the restriction on advertising, which could mean anything. To make that statement suggests that changes would be implemented, but to what extent really is anyone’s guess.
As for the Ombudsman, you would be looking at independent body providing an additional layer of support for consumers in the event that an ADR cannot resolve a dispute. It would mean more bureaucracy but it would also mean that operators are more accountable for their actions.
Finally, the policy most likely to ensure that the Liberal Democrats will not have a say in gambling law any time soon is the fact that they will end all Brexit negotiations and maintain the UK’s current position in the EU without a second referendum.
Their position on gambling is as close to a ying yang of proposed Conservative policy as it is possible to get. Gambling reform will be more radical and will happen more quickly under a Liberal Democrat government, whilst long-term change is likely to be much more predictable.
There can be little doubt that the main opposition to Conservative dominance within UK politics comes from the Labour Party. Here is the extract taken from their manifesto concerning gambling:
“A Labour government will curb gambling advertising in sports and introduce a new Gambling Act fit for the digital age, establishing gambling limits, a levy for problem gambling funding and mechanisms for consumer compensations.”
Before we look at this proposal in any detail it is worth noting that after 35 years in politics, Tom Watson, former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and key advocate and campaigner for reform within the gambling industry resigned from his post just a few weeks ago.
Watson spoke out ardently against the industry and there can be little doubt that his absence from the Labour party will mean any proposed changes are likely to be less radical.
The proposals we have here sit between those of the aforementioned Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Like the Lib Dems the Labour manifesto makes it clear that curb gambling advertising, with a specific focus on sport. What this means exactly is unclear. It could mean no advertising during sporting events. It could mean no logos on sports kits or in stadiums. It could mean a complete ban on sports betting advertising. Change will happen, but to what extent, we can’t possibly say right now.
Like the Liberal Democrats, the Labour party will see a new gambling act enforced, one that takes into account the new digital landscape that was only emerging back in 2005. It also means anything and everything could, in theory, change. It is not mentioned, but you would suppose this would see reform on the use of credit cards, loot boxes and in-game microtransactions.
The manifesto states explicitly that there will be changes made to the maximum bet limit that can be placed. This is likely to impact most heavily on slot games, with similar reforms to those placed on Fixed Odds Betting Machines, likely to be established within the online market.
The final 2 points made are similar but less specific than 2 of the bullet points confirmed in the Lib Dem manifesto. Again a levy will be introduced that will see increased levels of tax placed on UK operators and an additional layer of consumer support that could see increased powers for ADRs or the introduction of an independent ombudsman.
As for Brexit, with a Labour Party in power, the UK would head back to the drawing-board and offer up a second referendum on the matter. Of the 3 parties the long-term changes proposed by the Labour party are the most difficult to foresee.
Whilst the Scottish National Party do not have a candidate for UK Prime Minster they will be the biggest party in Scotland and may well end up with a voice in the cabinet if they form coalition in the event of a hung parliament. Here is what they had to say in their manifesto:
“Having led the campaign against Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, the SNP will continue to tackle problem gambling, pushing the UK Government to treat it as a public health matter and tackle it with a joined-up strategy.
“We will press for greater devolution of gambling regulation to the Scottish Parliament and press the UK Government to stop underage gambling on video games. We will support changes to charity lottery law to reduce bureaucracy and maximise returns to good causes and we will support a full public health inquiry into gambling related harm.”
This suggests that the SNP will not only be onboard with a new UK Gambling Act will look to take an active role in developing it. The Wording on “underage gambling on video games” is a difficult one to gauge. It could mean banning loot boxes, but without becoming too bogged down an repetitive argument it would all depend on what they define as gambling.
The most interesting part in all of this is the desire for further devolved powers on gambling regulation, which could go even further than this if Scotland votes on and then in favour of a second Independence referendum. It could mean that gamblers in Scotland operate under different rules entirely to those currently in place in the UK.
For those who choose to vote on the 12th of December it is unlikely that matters concerning gambling will be at the forefront of the decision. The placing of the X in the box will be determined by Brexit, the future of the NHS, alleged anti-Semitism and old loyalties that never falter.
Changes will always be heading for the gambling industry in the UK and we will have a better sense of immediate change on a fateful Friday the 13th of December. Regardless of who finds themselves in highest office in the UK it is becoming increasingly likely that there will be an overhaul of gambling legislation in the UK and that everyone involved in the sector should be bracing themselves for big changes ahead.
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