Getting the Covid-19 pandemic under control has taken priority over the government’s promised gambling review, which was expected this month but has now been described as ‘not imminent’ by the DCMS’ permanent secretary Sarah Healey – much to the disappointment of anti-gambling campaigners. So, how does the industry view the bigger picture?
A review of gambling laws may be postponed until next year with the top civil servant at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport now stating that it is not imminent.
The long-awaited inquiry, promised in last year’s Conservative Party election manifesto, was supposed to begin this month, but 9 months of Covid-19 may have put plans on hold for now.
The culture department’s permanent secretary, Sarah Healey, told the public accounts committee on Monday that she is “not able to give a firm timeline” and that the department “will seek to publish it as soon as possible”, but that “she would not expect to see it imminently”.
“The department has been extremely busy in recent months dealing with the consequences of Covid, but we are aware there is significant interest in making progress, and ministers remain keen to do so,” she added.
Richard Holden, a Tory member of the public accounts committee, said the news was worrying.
“The fact that the most senior civil servant in the culture department now seems to be backing away from getting the gambling review kicked off is very worrying,” he commented. “A proper review of the 2005 Gambling Act has crossparty support and was a manifesto commitment of the Conservative Party.”
Labour’s Carolyn Harris, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on gambling, said she had been led to believe that the Prime Minister would personally spearhead the reform.
“It is incredibly worrying that the review is stumbling before it has reached the first hurdle. We had been led to believe that Boris Johnson will personally spearhead the reform of Britain’s broken gambling laws,” she explained. “The virus is not an excuse – getting this review under way now will be a matter of life and death for hundreds of families.”
According to some commentators, ministers are seeking a wide-ranging review that could roll back large sections of the Gambling Act, which was introduced by Labour under Tony Blair. As with the Triennial review, any change in legislation would take around two years once the review is launched, meaning any changes made in light of the pandemic would come into effect when the pandemic is expected to be over.
Keeping focus on ‘the broader set of issues’
“It’s important to be clear that we are talking about a review of gambling and not a review of the Act which means that it will consider a far broader set of issues than just the regulations as they stand currently.
We have to be aware of the current mood music which isn’t well disposed towards gambling and the concerns apply far more to online than they do to land-based. However, the starting point for many policy makers is ‘what’s wrong with gambling?’ and that the 2005 Act is in fact too liberal.
Having said that, if the Act is being opened up to scrutiny then there’s every argument that we should take the opportunity to bring its provisions into the 21st century.
The details of Bacta’s submission will be signed-off by National Council but the ideas from members have included the introduction of a £10 stake long play soft gambling machine with new styles of entertainment games – the B5, giving customer s the choice to use modern cashless payment methods (not least for our post-COVID world), linked jackpots, the 80/20 rule and the creation of C1 and C2 sub categories which would enable a non-fruit machine game of chance in pubs.
In terms of opportunities for land-based gaming the big win would bet here in statement of the triennial which at the very least would enable the business to make the case for change in step with technological, societal and financial developments. The triennial has provided a rhythm to the industry in the past and in effect represents a mini review of gambling undertaken every three years but in a non-febrile atmosphere – there’s no doubt the triennial has been badly missed.
One of the by-products of the work and lobbying that Bacta continues to do in relation to Covid, is that more decision makers than ever before know more about the industry and the challenges it’s facing: my hope is that heightened awareness helps shape and influence policy in a positive sense.”
Striving for forward looking legislation, fit for the digital age
“We are looking forward to the Gambling Review and see this as an opportunity to improve outdated legislation. We are carefully reviewing our approach and areas we may ask the Government to consider.
What we would like to ultimately see is forward-looking legislation that is fit for our digital era and that enables our business to thrive in a socially responsible way.
Through Covid we have been very closely engaged with the government and policy makers and although no one would have wished for any of this, it has meant that we have been able to demonstrate the complexity and needs of our business and the AGC sector.”
Change based on logic and evidence, not Daily Mail headlines
“The starting point for any review has to be that it should be evidence based and that the evidence undergoes rigorous scrutiny and isn’t accepted on face value.
The original stated drivers for a review of the Gambling Act 2005 were; It’s an analogue act in a digital age; gambling advertising needs to be addressed; gambling with credit cards needs to be stopped and products such as loot boxes need to be regulated.
Interestingly, three of the stated drivers have either been dealt with or are in process of being dealt with – with the exception of the National Lottery sales.
As a strategic point we should impress upon MPs and advisers that gambling is a fun, entertaining and very much a social activity for the vast majority of its consumers. Whatever regulations flow out of this review, these fundamental facts should not be forgotten or ignored to suit prejudices.
We still do not know the full scope of the review, but whilst Primary Legislation is being reviewed, we must not let this opportunity for positive change pass us by.
Ahead of any consultation process or calls for evidence, the industry should give due consideration to some fundamental issues, namely: What do we want to see changed? What don’t we want to see changed? What form should this review process take and how should it be managed? The answers to these questions need to be punctuated with logic and evidence – principles that apply to both the industry and government.
We cannot end-up with policy formulated against the backdrop of Daily Mail headlines.”
A review to tackle the big issues of the day
“The industry and the many millions of consumers that we serve are looking for what I would describe as a ‘grownup’ review of the Act and the regulations that govern land-based gaming in this country.
I would like to see a fundamental overhaul of gambling in which policy is based on evidence and let’s think about what the customer wants in this digital world. High streets the length and breadth of the country are in crisis with thousands of shuttered- up shops and closed businesses. The industry can make a major contribution to high street rejuvenation with a new breed of gambling entertainment venues.
I would like to see us follow the lead of countries such as Spain where a full range of gambling options are housed under one roof. Sports betting via SSBT’s, bingo as well as the AGC offering we currently have – all with the necessary social responsibility measures, checks and verifications in operation.
The venues would include a high roller area in which players would register and play online with the venue providing all of the player protection safeguards but enhanced by the fact that it’s taking place in a retail environment with staff keeping an attentive eye on customers.
These would be safe, secure, social and ambient venues which meet the needs of consumers in the 21st century. In terms of the here and now it’s absolutely crucial that we are able to offer alternative payment methods.
We need to be able to offer what the player wants – we must be the only industry that can’t accept alternative electronic payments. I also think the review should have a sharp focus on the online sector, namely a limit on stakes that are equal to those in the land-based sector and a crackdown on the thousands of illegal operators.
I appreciate we are discussing a review of gambling but the big danger for children is loot boxes and in-app purchases which are made by children playing at home not in family entertainment centres.
Overall, I would like to see the review tackle the big issues of the day, be evidence based and take into account the wishes of the overwhelming majority of consumers who enjoy gambling responsibly and whose needs and opinions are frequently overlooked by regulators and policy makers.”
A once in a generation review that needs the necessary vision to anticipate consumer behaviour over the next decade
“Gauselmann UK is seeking a revision that reflects the digital age in which we live.
This is a once in a generation review that needs to have the necessary vision to anticipate consumer behaviour over the next decade or more.
It needs to provide balance between land based and online while acknowledging the immense importance of social responsibility.
Many changes can be achieved through regulation but we hope it will represent a more substantial over haul of how gambling is regulated in the UK rather than a programme of modifications to the existing Act.
Changes such as the introduction of modern payment methods are fundamental to the future of all land-based gaming particularly in the pub sector. In many cases the review will be about providing the industry with the tools to survive in what is a fast-moving consumer market driven by advances in technology. The world will change beyond recognition over the next decade, including how we shop, how much leisure time we have, how much disposable income we have as well as our values and expectations.
We need to have the ability to adapt to the environment in which we exist and the review will, to a large extent, make or break our ability to do that.
The challenge facing us as a business and the trade associations that we work with, is to ensure that we are not forgotten by decision makers and that policy is based on knowledge and not ignorance.
To this end, Gauselmann UK has introduced a political engagement programme in which we are meeting with MP’ s in the constituencies that we have venues.
We can see the change in perception from when they walk in to when they walk out after experiencing the low stake/low prize entertainment offer we have and meeting the staff and our customers who are also their constituents.
We are proud of the business we run and the quality of the product and services we offer to our customers but we need to work continuously in order to demonstrate that what we do is of the highest professional standards and most importantly that we uphold the highest standards of social responsibility.
Overall, the industry needs the Government to address the review with an open mind and not for tighter regulation to be the only focus. ”