The Gambling White Paper, a document outlining the new approach to regulating the iGaming industry in the UK, was published on 27 April by the British Government. I have been expecting to piece my thoughts on the findings for a while now, but the turmoil within the British government has resulted in delay after delay. After all, when you start to have prime ministers like Watford hire football managers, a small matter of a gambling review is unlikely to be at the top of the agenda.
The rather hefty 268-page document finally gives us the answers we have all been waiting for. We no longer have to speculate; we can now address the potential consequences of the new findings.
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a review of the Gambling Act 2005 in 2020, almost all gambling and betting occurred in brick-and-mortar betting venues, racetracks, and casinos. Therefore I acknowledge that the Gambling Act did need updating to reflect the modern age.
The document contains the introduction of the much-rumored affordability checks to safeguard approximately 300,000 problem gamblers and gambling addicts in the UK. According to the new regulations, those losing significant money could face affordability checks. These are set to activate once an individual loses £1000 in 24 hours or £2000 in over 90 days. How these checks will be conducted is still unclear.
This is concerning as it could hugely impact pro gamblers or the most important people for a casino's bottom line. I am all for making changes to the Gambling Act to protect the most vulnerable and losing £1k in a day would suggest you need considerable funds to justify such spending. However, 2k over 90 days works out at just over £20 daily. A lot for the average person to lose, but not to the high rollers that online casinos love.
According to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, there has been a dire need for a new approach that differentiates a “flutter” from unchecked addiction. One of the white paper’s proposals is a levy to be imposed on gambling companies to be used to finance addiction recovery and research. As per the proposal, gambling companies would have to pay 1% of any profits, which could be utilized to finance NHS treatments for those with gambling addiction. This seems utterly fair if we consider the vast sums of money that the major gambling companies are raking in.
Another issue the white paper gambling was expected to address was companies preying on the most vulnerable to boost their revenue. Gambling companies have long been bombarding vulnerable individuals with misleading advertisements, consequently raking in record profits. These vulnerable individuals include not only those prone to gambling addiction but minors as well. Unfortunately, to the chagrin of campaigners, it has been revealed that no new action is being taken on advertising. The government stated that pre-existing measures do enough to protect the highly vulnerable, despite there being many who beg to differ.
Charity owners Liz and Charles Richie, who lost their 24-year-old son, Jack, to gambling-related suicide, appreciated some of the proposals but stated that more extensive measures need to be taken, particularly regarding putting a stop to gambling ads and implementing affordability checks.
For years, betting sites have been involved in the unethical practices of limiting winners and encouraging losers on their platforms. They do it for the sole reason of keeping profitable bettors from taking their money. Once they flag a user’s account, they either impose betting limits for a specific market or sport or ban the account altogether.
With outdated legislation allowing questionable and illegal activities to run rampant, change has undoubtedly been long overdue. That said, I would be remiss not to mention that the white paper has already met its fair share of criticisms, and rightfully so.
While the launch of the UK gambling White Paper was highly anticipated, it has been criticized by many lawmakers regarding various aspects. According to Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the document does not do enough to safeguard minors from gambling-related advertising.
Philip Davies, another Conservative MP, also criticized some of the proposed measures, which I fully agree with. According to Davies, promoting personal freedom and responsibility no longer seems relevant, considering the proposed affordability checks. "Do the punters themselves get any say at all over how they can afford to spend their own hard-earned money?" he added.
Though affordability checks are designed to detect gamblers at risk of financial difficulties, what about the ones who do not have issues? I am referring to individuals who can make sound financial decisions for themselves. This takes away their freedom to bet how much they want. This is similar to restricting how much a person can drink, telling them what is better. Are adults not responsible for making choices?
Furthermore, due to their nature, financial checks could become highly intrusive for many, especially for most gamblers who do so only for fun. Again, no one wants to be controlled or told what to do. Granted, this tool could be a lifesaver for those prone to gambling-related issues; however, it creates a severe problem for those who choose to bet responsibly. Affordability checks could annoy such individuals, imposing limitations on them and asking them to share financial and personal details, consequently driving them away.
Online gambling is a thriving business; with the UK having the most significant gambling market worldwide, many people work in some capacity for online casinos and sportsbooks. A potentially significant number of gamblers walking away from betting sites annoyed by affordability checks could thus lead to further consequences: it could raise the potential to cost jobs in the industry.
Overall, I understand that since 2005 so much evolution has occurred in the gambling world that it is necessary to update how online casinos are regulated. We cannot compare the urge to go to the casino with the desire to turn to your phone and place a few bets. Doing one is far easier than the other, and it has never been more difficult for those prone to gambling issues.
However, striking a healthy balance between freedom of choice and protection of the most vulnerable would always be very difficult to strike. The act should focus more on the betting advertisement as we may have an image problem. Gambling is always great if promoted as fun rather than a way to make money. Placing a fiver there and a fiver here doesn't matter if you are in control. There is great concern that affordability checks could drive many people away.
This article delivers the thoughts and opinions of the author, and it doesn't represent the stance of GoodLuckMate.