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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Government white paper sets out plans for major reform of gambling laws

Government white paper sets out plans for major reform of gambling laws


Planned updates for the digital age include reforms to the betting rules

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport published the long-awaited white paper on gambling on 27 April, which sets out the government’s plans for comprehensive reforms to the law on gambling. The reforms include providing the Gambling Commission with strengthened enforcement powers against unlicensed operators and a mandatory levy on operators to fund the treatment for gambling addiction.

The reforms aim to bolster the regulator’s ability to hold gambling operators to account if they fall short of their social responsibility and legal obligations, with the press release citing the recent fine of £19m by the Gambling Commission against William Hill for failings, including allowing a customer to spend £23,000 in 20 minutes.

The new package of measures include: a statutory gambling operator levy to ensure that operators help fund problem gambling related treatment services and research; new stake limits of between £2 and £15 per spin for online slots games, including a future consultation on measures to provide greater protections for 18–24 year olds; frictionless player protection checks to protect those most at risk of harm; extra powers for the Gambling Commission to enable it to tackle black market operators through court orders and work with internet service providers to takedown and block illegal gambling sites; rules to prevent bonus offers harming vulnerable people; closing loopholes to make sure under-18s cannot gamble either online or via cash fruit machines, and includes bringing football pools betting in line with National Lottery play for over-18s only; a new industry ombudsman to deal with disputes and rule on redress where a customer suffers losses due to an operator failing in their player protection duties; and a review of the current horserace betting levy.

The white paper, which is the culmination of the government’s call for evidence on the Gambling Act 2005 in December 2020, also includes proposals for all major sports governing bodies to sign up to a code of practice on gambling sponsorship.

In regards to the Gambling Commission’s powers, the white paper also states that efforts by the regulator to ensure it can effectively respond to novel products that blur the line between gambling and other areas will continue and there are some small changes that could be made around the regulator’s ability to investigate operators, including improving its responsiveness to changes in corporate control.

Commenting on the white paper, Lloyd Firth, counsel in WilmerHale’s UK white collar defence and investigations practice, said: “The long-anticipated white paper proposes practical means of addressing the increasingly complex and multi-jurisdictional gambling landscape that the Gambling Commission is responsible for regulating. The proposed improved funding arrangements and increased enforcement powers for the Commission – particularly the recommendation that the Commission be able to apply for business disruption measures in respect of unlicensed and typically overseas black-market participants – are welcome. The key question, however, is whether and when the legislative agenda allows for the reforms to be implemented.”