IMGL Magazine April 2022

UK Gambling Review

press for liberalisation in another). It is of course too simplistic to suggest that what happens in Britain will inevitably foreshadow events elsewhere, but it is a legitimate risk. Changing the Script The Five Acts that we have described in this article provide a useful framework for thinking about how events are likely to unfold – and hopefully serve as a prompt to shift focus from tackling immediate tactical threats (which may in some instances be lost causes) to strategic or thematic challenges. It is not necessarily the case that events will unfold in the rather pessimistic manner we have depicted. We can, however, be fairly certain of a number of things: • The increasingly powerful public health and anti-gambling lobbies will continue to press governments for more radical solutions (often to conveniently imprecise problems, which allow for the application of ‘fuzzy fixes’ such as advertising bans). Much of this lobbying will be conducted by members of government agencies from within government (and therefore in forums that industry participants have no knowledge of or access to). • Activists will continue to manufacture evidence in support of their objectives through research-as-advocacy; legislators may struggle to distinguish propaganda from genuine scientific research. • Activists will continue to demand that industry participants be excluded from discussions on the future of market regulation. • Governments and regulators are generally reluctant to evaluate the effect of legislative change – or to be exposed to scrutiny on the effect of their actions (unless they can be shown to be positive). The public health lobby tends to adopt a self-evidential approach to evaluation (‘it works because we say it does’). Given the increasingly hawkish rhetoric of the gambling minister, it seems patently clear that the industry is not where it would like

to be at this stage in the long and drawn- out prelude to legislative reform. What started out as a balanced and evidence-led review is in danger of becoming a show trial. Depictions of a strong industry lobby are undone by the seeming inability of operators and their trade bodies to debunk even the most egregious of claims (such as Public Health England’s made up estimate of social and economic costs from gambling). This may in part be due to the fact that these organisations are not always scrupulous in their own presentation of events. The past cannot be corrected – but it can be learned from – and in this way, disaster may yet be averted. In addition to strengthening protections for customers (based on what is likely to work for the customer rather than what may temporarily appease politicians), the industry needs to do a much better job of engaging with the evidence. This will necessitate a willingness to confront and act upon negative issues and uncomfortable truths; but also to rebut – constructively and with intelligence – misinformation. Tolerance of propaganda (from whichever source) is likely to result in poor legislation, market dysfunction and negative consequences for consumers. Operators need to hold governments to account for their decisions and this requires the implementation of systems of evaluation (as recommended in the Budd Report of 2001; a recommendation that successive administrations have studiously ignored). In the absence of evaluation, the wisdom of market restrictions will never be scrutinised in any scientific way. In this way, activists will be encouraged to pursue successively more hard-line policies (secure in the knowledge that they will never be held responsible) and also to demand their adoption in other jurisdictions. The process of reforming Britain’s gambling laws is set to play out as a drama in several distinct Acts. As things stand, the production is revealed as a mixture of tragedy and farce – but the ending has yet to be written. Now more than ever, it is critical for the industry to follow the evidence.

Dan Waugh is a partner at advisory and research form, Regulus Partners. He can be contacted at

34 • IMGL Magazine • April 2022

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