IMGL Magazine April 2022

UK Gambling Review

Social Care and Department of Education have until 2nd May to respond). The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is due to publish findings from its Delphi Study on government interventions to prevent gambling harms. This is a rather shady exercise involving a clandestine group of researchers and based upon Public Health England’s ‘dodgy dossier’ from last year. Tax increases and product and marketing restrictions may be expected to feature prominently. The fact that OHID is a government agency means that its recommendations (notwithstanding the profound problems with their production) will be hard to ignore. It is also possible that Opposition parties may exploit the vacuum of Government delay by publishing their own plans for reform – raising the ante for the DCMS. Recent ministerial utterances indicate that the White Paper may be more hard-line than the 2021 draft would have been. The minister responsible for the review, Chris Philp has openly admitted to being influenced by anti-gambling activists and has even appeared to engage in lobbying his own administration. It would be a mistake however to assume that the White Paper – however tough – represents the finish line for the review. It will be followed by a 12-week consultation period in which the powerful public health lobby, currently in the ascendancy, will likely push the Government to go far further (almost regardless of what is proposed) in imposing restrictions on gambling consumers and costs on gambling companies. Actors exit stage under darkening skies…. Act II – Draft Legislation The second Act opens, perhaps in the Autumn of 2022, with the publication of the Government’s proposals for amendments to the Gambling Act 2005 and new primary legislation where necessary (for example, the creation of a framework for online stake and prize limits). The extent to which the draft legislation is consistent with the White Paper recommendations will have been determined by responses to the consultation and broader political manoeuvres over the summer (potentially including further ministerial reshuffling). At this point, it will be the task of Parliament to scrutinise and to improve the draft legislation. The problem is that most parliamentarians are not particularly adept at the hard work of legislative scrutiny, preferring instead the cut, thrust and mendacity of lobbying. Parliament’s track record at debating gambling policy is not good – too often characterised by misinformation and an insistence that “something must be done” in lieu of properly considered and practically effective solutions. Appearances can be deceptive, but the parliamentary anti-

gambling lobby has, in recent years, been far more vocal and far more visible than any pro-gambling lobby. To a certain extent, this goes with the territory (it seems to be much easier these days to be against things than to be for them) but such an imbalance is not inevitable. During the passage of the Gambling Act between 2003 and 2005, parliamentary discourse was generally balanced and (thanks to the work of the Gambling Review Body which produced the ‘Budd Report’) well-informed. The risk now is that the process of legislative scrutiny will fall to a Parliament long on prejudice and short on insight. As things stand, it would be reasonable to assume that the balance of changes imparted by MPs and peers will be in favour of even greater restrictions. Actors We find ourselves in 2023 – 18 years have passed since the Queen gave Royal Assent to the Gambling Act 2005 – and Parliament is being asked to vote once again on reforms to the laws governing betting and gaming. The Government is in a position to enact a large number of changes fairly quickly via Statutory Instruments but other reforms require primary legislation – and this takes time and a willingness on behalf of the Government to prioritise change above a wide range of other (often more pressing) matters. The process of drafting, revising and passing legislation does not occur in a vacuum. Legislators will therefore be lobbied by a wide range of special interests while the ebb and flow of news (regulatory enforcement actions, research findings, made-to-order surveys and tales of harm) exit to the sound of thunder…. Act III – The Legislation continues. It may also be that the Government’s cross- department addictions strategy finally gets going at around this point. This was a manifesto pledge by the Conservative Party in November 2019 which, for entirely understandable reasons, has yet to get off the ground. The Government will not wish to head into the 2024 General Election facing accusations of broken promises on the subject of mental health. The extent to which Government policy on addictions was joined up with policy gambling has never been made clear. The confluence of the two will nevertheless pose additional challenges. Act IV – The Commission Once the new legislation is in place, we might expect a large number of parliamentarians to lose interest in the subject. Even if – as seems increasingly likely – the new legislation is poorly conceived, it will take time for the faults to become so obvious that they require remediation. In the meantime, the Gambling Commission may be expected to continue to

32 • IMGL Magazine • April 2022

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