All of the Gambling Commission’s proposals for changes to licensing fees will be implemented by the government, resulting in a staggering 55 percent increase for online operators and an unfathomable 15 percent increase for land-based operators, a rise industry trade association Bacta believes is “too much and too premature”.
Licence fees will increase by 55 percent for online operators on 1 October 2021 and by 15 percent for landbased operators on 6 April 2022.
Following a DCMS consultation at the start of the year, the government has announced its intention to implement all of the Gambling Commission’s proposals on license fees.
On its current performance levels of approving licences between eight to 12 weeks late, and its hapless and damaging interpretation of applications from companies with Bounce Back Loans, that’s some gig going on at the regulator.
In less well regulated countries, this kind of rise would be tantamount to racketeering; in Britain, under its deluded vainglorious regulatory system, it’s still racketeering, but legal.
Last revised in 2017, the increased fees are intended to help the Gambling Commission respond to new risks and technological developments, as well as the increasing cost of its existing regulation.
For land based operations, with the number of licences declining in the past four years, it is a difficult increase to fathom. A cursory glance at the Treasury’s own revenue stats from tax pulled in from land based operations – MGD falling by almost half of its 2019 level – it makes you wonder whether the architect of this fee increase was working from home that day and their 3-year child scribbled down the biggest number it could think of whilst mummy and daddy weren’t looking.
Irrespective of how the figures were determined, it remains a challengeable rise. But the government would have been mindful of the gaping shortfall in results achieved by the Commission. The money will almost certainly go towards addressing areas for improvement identified by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, such as improving its use of data and intelligence, and ensure effective regulation of the gambling industry.
The changes include a 55 percent increase in the fee bands for annual operating licences for online operators, which will take effect on 1 October 2021. The argument here, most likely, is online companies are stacked with cash and given their profit levels this rise, albeit extortionate, in real terms will not cause too much hurt to those businesses.
On terra firma, however, things are very different. Fee bands for land-based operators will increase by 15 percent, with these increases coming into effect on 6 April 2022 in recognition of the impact that COVID-19 closures have had on these businesses.
Given the fact that most of these companies have received almost no direct support from the government throughout the pandemic, a deferral to 2023 would have been far fairer on land-based businesses who also have increased business rates to contend with.
Trade association Bacta is of a similar mind. It believes this rise remains “too much and too premature” for an industry so deeply affected by the government’s lockdowns and restrictions over the last 16 months.
“It will come as no surprise that the Government’s proposal to raise the Gambling Commission’s fees has been accepted without amendment following the recent consultation,” said Bacta CEO John White. “For the land-based sector fees will therefore rise by an average of 15 percent from April 2022. As you will recall Bacta opposed this increase strongly. It was too much and premature, as in our view enforcement against illegal operators by the Commission, poor in any case, had waned further, and of course we will still be trying to recover from the impact of the pandemic. We are promised an improvement on prosecuting criminals but we will wait to see on that.”
In addition to the rises to fee bands for annual operating licences, all application fees will increase by 60 percent and discounts for being licensed for multiple activities will be removed. The government has also not ruled out further increases in the upcoming gambling review act.
“The government is carrying out a separate Review of the Gambling Act 2005, which began with a call for evidence on 8 December 2020. This will look at the Commission’s powers and resources,” stated the government’s response on changes to Gambling Commission fees. “While that may lead to further changes to the fees system in future, the uplift to fees now is aimed at ensuring the Gambling Commission is able to meet ongoing challenges while the Review progresses.”