The UK government’s white paper on gambling — the document that was to update decades-old laws and provide guidance for the future — still isn’t ready to make its debut after a delay of well over a year. It now looks like there is finally progress. But the government is seemingly going almost all the way back to square one to get things moving.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) announced via its website this past Wednesday that a committee within the agency will launch an inquiry into UK gambling. The actions the committee will take are all tied to requests different government agencies have been pushing.
The result is that the inquiry will most likely have to run its course before the DCMS can release a white paper. This means there could be a number of changes to the draft the government was originally going to release in September of last year.
Hurry Up and Wait
Between governmental upheaval, changes in authority, and a recession, reforming gambling laws that have been in place since 2005 hasn’t been easy. The more delays there are, with the fluid nature of the gambling industry, the greater the need to revisit what reforms have been recommended.
The DCMS explained in its announcement that government agencies like the Public Accounts Committee and a House of Lords Committee have sought, through legislation, greater controls to prevent problem gambling. It added that parliamentarians have lambasted the agency’s Department and Gambling Commission for what some consider a soft approach.
The problem gambling rate in the UK is around 0.2%, according to the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC). This would seem to be an indication that far-reaching controls aren’t necessary.
The DCMS stated recently that its goal is to develop regulations for the gambling industry that are fair and that won’t stifle growth, especially as the online gambling segment grows. However, it is responding to the pressure from legislators with its new inquiry.
The agency will explore how the government has responded to the recommendations legislators have presented. In addition, it wants to ensure that the regulations it puts into action are able to remain as fluid as the industry itself.
One of the fundamental components of the inquiry will also address the relationship between sports and sports betting. There have been multiple calls for a complete ban on advertising in sports by gaming operators, including club sponsorships. These haven’t received enough support yet to become standard features.
Reforming the Reform
In a way, the latest delay is a smart move. It would be illogical to base new regulations on years-old, outdated studies, which would have been the case previously. Now, the DCMS can take a fresh approach and incorporate more recent data.
From this past Wednesday and continuing through February 10, the agency is accepting feedback for the inquiry. It wants input on a number of topics, including actual, not subjective, data on gambling harm in the country.
It also wants to know what others think should be the priorities when formulating the new white paper, and how broad the definition of gambling should be. The DCMS is also looking for input on whether a regulator, such as the UKGC, is capable of staying on top of the evolution of the online gaming space.
Currently, the UKGC receives hundreds of millions of dollars from operators annually through voluntary contributions and fines. With that, it should be able to keep up.
Operators also contribute to safe gambling programs, such as GambleAware. Last year, they gave more than $21 million, which could be part of the reason the rate of problem gambling in the country is so low.
New DCMS Secretary Michelle Donelan announced last week that she’s pregnant and that ,she will be taking off time next year for a “short” maternity leave. She didn’t specify when, although it’s likely that her break will be well beyond February.
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