Insights British Gambling Regulation – All change?

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has this morning announced the long-awaited review of British gambling laws and a call for evidence to inform the potential extent of changes required to the Gambling Act 2005 in order to make the legislative framework “fit for the “digital age”. The call for evidence will run for 16 weeks and will close on 31 March 2021.

DCMS also announced its decision, without the need for evidence, to raise the minimum age for participation in the National Lottery from 16 to 18 with effect from no later than October 2021. Whilst this may grab some headlines, it was an easy call – a glaringly inconsistent approach to the protection of young people which stood out like a sore thumb.

Of more interest to the wider gambling sector is DCMS’ commitment to give detailed consideration to:

  • protections for online gamblers (such as stake and spend limits);
  • gambling advertising and promotional offers;
  • the action customers can take where they feel operators have breached social responsibility requirements, such as intervening to protect customers showing clear signs of problematic play;
  • ensuring children and young people are kept safe from gambling-related harm; and
  • the Gambling Commission’s powers and resources to ensure it can keep pace with the licensed sector and tackle the black market.

In view of the House of Lords review published earlier this year (more on which here), there are no real surprises in the areas of focus revealed in DCMS’s press release.

There is, importantly, some very clear recognition of the fine line to be trodden in terms of “the need to balance the enjoyment people get from gambling with the right regulatory framework and protections” by ensuring “customer protection is at the heart of the regulations, while giving those that gamble safely the freedom to do so.”

The Commission has, rightly in our view, received scrutiny from industry participants on the extent to which its approach to regulatory change is based on empirical evidence and the experiences of the many, not just the few. DCMS has also (again quite rightly in our opinion) recognised the strides that have been made by the Commission and the industry more generally on key regulatory initiatives in recent years.

DCMS cites the Commission’s call for evidence around how operators should identify and intervene where people are at risk of harm, including through carrying out affordability checks. The subject matter of the Commission’s current affordability consultation (more on which here) is arguably the most significant (and trickiest) issue facing the UK gambling sector. It’s interesting that DCMS has given a nod to the need to tackle the black market – many fear this could grow exponentially as an unintended, but natural, consequence of an affordability regime which, in effect, will prove a turn off to gamblers who aren’t “at risk”. It is therefore hoped that the information gathered from the affordability consultation will form part of DCMS’s holistic and evidenced-based review. Piecemeal regulation is, at this stage, extremely unlikely to facilitate achieving the right balance between consumer protection and individual freedoms which is at the heart of the Government’s review.

We will be writing a series of more in-depth articles as the review progresses.

The Government’s press release can be found here.

The Terms of Reference and Call for Evidence can be found here.