HomeInsightsBalancing the Odds: Evaluating the Impact of Gambling Regulation Reforms


Last week, the Gambling Commission’s head of evidence assurance and evaluation, David Taylor announced that it has partnered with the National Centre for Social Research (“NatCen”) to monitor and evaluate the impact of the package of measures that will be implemented as a result of the Gambling Act Review (“Review”). NatCen is the largest independent and not-for-profit social research organisation in the UK, which (using its own words) “conducts a wide variety of programme and policy evaluations to understand what works… and uncover unintended consequences.”

The Gambling Commission has previously been criticized for shortcomings in its assessment of its own strategies. In 2020, the National Audit Office published a report on problem gambling in which it called out the Commission on this when it stated:

“The Commission has translated its statutory objectives and overall aim to make gambling safer into strategic priorities, business plan activities and high-level outcomes it wants to achieve. However, it has not yet developed these high-level outcomes into detailed, measurable success criteria against which to judge progress.” As any operator who has been through a Commission compliance assessment knows, it is not enough to implement a policy. You also need to demonstrate that the policy actually works. In response to criticism about obtaining proper evidence to support its proposals and strategies, the Commission has previously worked with NatCen on projects to enhance the quality of data collected, as demonstrated by the publication of findings from the Gambling Survey for Great Britain on 29 February 2024.

NatCen has stated that the primary aim of this forthcoming project will be to devise a Monitoring and Evaluation plan to establish the Review’s effectiveness in addressing gambling-related harms. NatCen also acknowledged that the effectiveness of the measures must consider the balance between consumer protection and commercial freedom.

The challenge with a project of this scale lies in assessing the impact of these measures holistically and proportionately, whilst simultaneously upholding the objective of the Review to “ensure that there is an appropriate balance between consumer freedoms and choice on the one hand and prevention of harm to vulnerable groups and wider communities on the other.” With so many overlapping consultations (both in time and subject matter), this evaluation of the eventual output will not be an easy task. But it needs to be done.

Once the measures set out in the Review have been through the consultation process, the Commission is then responsible for enshrining those measures by issuing updated regulation and associated guidance to give the industry clarity on how to implement these changes.

When exercising its powers, the Gambling Commission must always observe its broad statutory duty, to permit gambling, in so far as the Commission thinks it reasonably consistent with pursuit of the licensing objectives.

The Gambling Commission’s duty to uphold the licensing objectives and protect vulnerable groups from being harmed by gambling is one side of the coin. The other is represented by the more important objective of the Review – to ensure any regulatory change is balanced. The Commission will need to demonstrate that its proposed rafts of changes meet the objectives of the White Paper, whilst avoiding the potential for legal challenge if it exceeds its mandate. The Commission will need to show whether its proposals have gone far enough or, we would submit, if they go too far. Time will tell, but it is crucial that any evaluation process clearly evidences the effectiveness of the Commission’s work.

Whilst consumer protection is a core objective that underpins the regulation of gambling, industry stakeholders would expect the Commission’s approach to not be biased solely towards protecting vulnerable groups, but to adopt an impartial and evidence-based logic to any changes it may implement. The Gambling Commission has the authority to function as a counterweight to overly restrictive measures that may stifle the market by implementing restrictions or limiting market conditions that go no further than might reasonably be considered necessary.

As the Government said when commencing the Review, it is important to acknowledge and protect the industry’s contribution to innovation, employment, and tax. To give credit where it is due, the Gambling Commission’s chief executive, Andrew Rhodes recognised the need to allow the industry to develop in his speech at ICE in London earlier this year.

The Commission’s actions will speak louder than its words as it embarks on the next stage of shaping the future of gambling regulation in Great Britain. The Commission’s most recent attempt to evaluate the impact of a significant regulatory change related to the implementation of responsible game design requirements in 2023. Anyone reading that cannot fail to conclude it very much looked at the impact on the consumption of games and not much else. It didn’t really assess the wider impact on the industry and whether the changes were balanced in their impact to the consumer (both vulnerable and not vulnerable players alike) and to the industry operators.

The Commission’s recent blog piece on this subject can be found here.