By Jon Bryan | Expected reading time 4 mins

Boris Johnson appointed a new Minister this month, but how long will they last? Jon Bryan, writing for SlotsHawk, examines what might happen with the Gambling White Paper and ministerial appointments in the coming months.

It was widely rumoured that we could have seen the Gambling White Paper before Parliament broke up for the summer, with Tuesday 19 July 2022 as the date set for the release. However, that date came and went, so now we can all settle in for a bit of wait until we hear precise proposals from the government to reform the gambling laws. It won’t be until the autumn, at the earliest. By then, we will definitely have a new Prime Minister, probably a new Culture Secretary, and perhaps a new minister with responsibility for gambling.

PHILP RESIGNS – BUT IS A POSSIBLE RETURN ON THE CARDS?

I say, perhaps a new gambling minister, but it is possible that we might not see a new face. We might have an old one return. After Chris Philp resigned as on 7th July 2022 a couple of hours later, and rather bizarrely, he offered to continue to be of service. As one person commentated on social media, ‘This is a parody of a farce.’ You don’t resign to make a point about what you feel about the government and then immediately say that you’ll come back and do the job.

Perhaps Philp was annoyed with his own timing. After all, if he had hung onto his post for just a few more minutes, he would still be a Minister now and we might even be discussing the content of his Gambling White Paper, rather than continuing to speculate about what might have been in it. Commenting to Sky News shortly after his resignation Philp said:

‘”f I was asked to help out…I would be willing to help out in any way I could, in any capacity, whoever the leader was and whatever the circumstances were – that’s a matter of public service.

“I want to be clear I’m not asking for that, I’m not expecting it – I resigned, and when you resign you resign. If I can help out practically I will obviously give practical assistance.”

So, Philp has said that he would serve as a Minister for the benefit of the country, so perhaps he would step back into the role if he was asked to do so by a new Prime Minister in the autumn? Philp is backing the current favourite to get that job – Liz Truss – so maybe he’ll get rewarded and handed back his old post.

DAMIAN COLLINS APPOINTED AS NEW MINISTER

Meanwhile, in an attempt to keep the government going and to appoint a minister with gambling in their brief, Boris Johnson asked Damian Collins (the Kent MP for Folkestone and Hythe) to be of service. This was welcomed by Michael Dugher from the Betting and Gaming Council who said that Collins was ‘Highly rated and respected…who actually knows something about his brief.’

Whether Collins stays on in the role to oversee the long awaited changes to gambling legislation is another matter: he is the third person in this role in less than 18 months, and the eighth in four years. It could depend on who Collins backs to be the new Prime Minister. At the time of writing, he has not come out in favour of either Sunak or Truss, (he backed third place finisher, Penny Mordaunt). But if he does stay on, it’s worth a brief look at some of what he thinks about gambling.

Some people might call it serendipity, or a happy coincidence, but two weeks before being elevated to the post of government minister, Collins was on Politics Live on the BBC discussing the possible new gambling legislation. At the time, not being a minister, nor knowing precisely what the government thinking was on this issue, Collins was able to speak reasonably freely about what he thought on some of the key issues. On gambling companies sponsoring Premiership football shirts, it was clear that he thought something should be done, but he stopped short of calling for a total ban:

“I think this should be looked at to see how appropriate some of these sponsors are.”

Collins seemed to have a particular issue with non-UK based gambling companies adorning football shirts in the Premier League, and definitely wanted to look closely at this. It wasn’t quite clear whether he was in favour of extending curbs on gambling sponsorship and advertising in general, or whether it was just gambling companies from the Far East being on display in UK football grounds. If it is the latter, this attitude might be something welcomed by those gambling companies whose roots are firmly in this country.

ONLINE GAMBLING

In the discussion on online gambling on Politics Live, (you can watch it here), I felt the contributors spoke particularly poorly and Collins didn’t really interject. This was a shame, as most at this roundtable spoke without real detail of the debate and made general statements which were not really challenged by the presenter. Some helpful comments came from Sunday Telegraph columnist, Zoe Strimpel. She questioned the ‘nanny state’ approach to gambling and to gambling advertising in particular: ‘I just think it brings lawmakers and politicians into such minute areas of attempted control’, she argued, making it clear that she found an interventionist and censoring approach to be problematic. Strimpel said that if a product is legal, why shouldn’t they be allowed to promote themselves?

Collins has intervened in discussions about gambling previously, including online gambling. When gambling companies previously acquired the rights to some FA cup games which you could watch for free, as long as you had an online betting account, Collins called this ‘worse than grubby.’ By arguing that this created ‘an active incentive for people to gamble’, Collins showed a tendency to want to intervene. Perhaps not through direct government involvement, but he did call on both the FA and gambling companies to ‘reconsider the agreement’. The controversy was resolved, with FA Cup ties being streamed on a free platform rather than one owned and controlled by the betting companies who had agreed the deal.

If Collins does get the gambling brief for a little longer, it will be interesting to see if his strategy is one of continuing to call for organisations to ‘reconsider’ what they are doing, and to perhaps not introduce gambling regulations which directly intervene and instruct in those relationships. The Betting and Gaming Council have previously warned of the dangers of doing so, and that interventions can have unintended consequences.

‘The regulated betting and gaming industry is a carefully balanced ecosystem and it is appropriate to point out where changes in one part of the sector could seriously threaten another part, even if that is not the intention of campaigners or regulators.’

If Collins does get the go ahead to run with a new Gambling White Paper, let’s hope that he doesn’t direct the state to intervene in ways which see an overall detrimental impact, not just on gambling, but on all of us who value a government that doesn’t restrict how we spend our leisure time. We’ve had quite enough of that recently.

Jon Bryan is a Gambling Writer and Poker Player.
Follow him on Twitter: @JonBryanPoker

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