By Jon Bryan | Expected reading time 6 mins
The Gambling White Paper is expected by some to appear later this month: April 17th, according to one report. Writing for SlotsHawk, Jon Bryan looks back at what’s happened so far this year, and what might be coming when we see the detail of the proposals.
Whilst the first quarter of 2023 did not deliver an outcome to the government’s ongoing gambling review, there has certainly been a lot going on in the gambling sector this year. Let’s have a quick recap of a few key landmarks.
In January we had some words from the government minister leading the gambling review that many of us were pleased to hear:
‘It is not the role of government or the gambling commission to tell people how much of their salary they are “allowed to” spend on gambling.’
In February we had some positive reflections from Andrew Rhodes, the Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, about the state of gambling and the gambling industry:
‘Three years on from the start of the pandemic…our data suggests gambling may well have settled into a “new normal”. As of September 2022, overall participation in any gambling activity, in the last four weeks, remains statistically stable at 44 percent compared to year to September 2021. Within that, the level of online gambling has continued its long-term trend up to 27 percent and this is matched by land-based gambling as well. The overall headline problem gambling rate is statistically stable as well.’
And in March we saw a Cheltenham Festival with some great horse racing, lots of good coverage, and a celebration of the excitement that can be gained through both sport and betting. An average of 65,000 people came to the Cheltenham Festival every day for four consecutive days of racing. And the ITV Racing coverage was much praised, with a huge 1.7 million people tuning in on a Friday afternoon to watch the main race on the final day: The Cheltenham Gold Cup, won by Galopin Des Champs.
So, one reading of the first part of 2023 could be that all things seemed to be relatively positive for gambling; we just hadn’t yet heard the final details of what Sunak’s government has in store for the gambling industry, and, consequently, the gambling consumer.
But let’s just rewind for one minute and take a different view of the start of this year.
THE GAMBLING WHITE PAPER AND GOVERNMENT CHANGES
While it was great to see the Gambling Minister address the industry’s representative body (the Betting and Gaming Council) with common sense, humour and honesty, we soon learnt that Paul Scully was on the move. Having thought that we would see a Gambling White Paper ‘in the coming weeks’, Rishi Sunak decided on a Cabinet reshuffle in February. Once again, a Conservative Prime Minister moved the current incumbents in the posts of Culture Secretary and Gambling Minister aside. Those expecting stability in this area at the start of the new year were once again left wondering what was going on.
Lucy Frazer was soon announced as the new Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), but it took Sunak’s government a while longer to announce who would be leading the government’s work on gambling. Stuart Andrew was eventually given the brief, who now also finds himself facing the prospect of having no constituency to represent at the next election, because of changes taking place announced by the Boundary Commission.
THE GAMBLING COMMISSION
Much of the end of March 2023 was dominated by regulatory fines issued by the Gambling Commission, with headlines being generated by a record fine of £19.2 million to the William Hill Group.
When you read the detail, the fine cannot be seen as a shock. Unsurprisingly, I don’t think anyone attempted to defend what had happened in the three companies owned by William Hill. The news about it wasn’t just a few posts on social media by those already hostile to both gambling and gambling companies; it was in the mainstream press, on the radio, and on the TV. With such a large fine being issued, it was not unusual to see the regulator fielding much of the media on the day the fine was announced by the Gambling Commission.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
With this recent context, and leaks about what we might expect to see in the White Paper, its likely that the government will feel compelled to introduce new gambling legislation with bans and restrictions at the heart of it. That will please those groups and individuals who campaign against gambling, but will likely harm the rest of us.
The Sun newspaper recently suggested that the Gambling White Paper will prevent adults aged 18-24 ‘from betting more than £2 per spin online’ and that adults aged 25 and over will have a maximum limit of £15 per spin. That’s not good news for any gambler who likes to play slots at a higher level, nor for those aged 18-24 who think that they should not be treated like some sort of new category of “not a child, but not yet an adult”. The Sun quotes the Culture Secretary (Lucy Frazer) as saying that this will be a ‘minimal disruption to the majority’, but it’s clear that those consequences cannot really be measured with any accuracy. Others have said that there is a danger of punters turning to the black market if some of the proposals being rumoured make it onto the statute books.
The incredibly long process of the gambling review means that many people just want to know what things are going to look like, for both the industry and the gambling consumer. Sadly, one thing that we can be sure about is the continued lack of any voice from the gambling consumer in the news outlets that cover this issue. Even alternative news media fail to cover the voice of the gambler. But that should not stop us from speaking out and seeking to try and get our message across. I am speaking about these issues in Leeds later this month. I will continue to speak up for the race goer, the slots player, those who go to the casino, and those who play poker. The consumers voice in all these changes should not be kept on the side-lines.
Jon Bryan is a Gambling Writer and Poker Player. His new pamphlet “Risking It All: The freedom to gamble” is now available to purchase or free to download. He is speaking about gambling in Leeds later this month, in an event organised by The Leeds Salon. Follow him on Twitter @JonBryanPoker.