It has been 18 years since the country’s gambling laws were properly updated but the industry has transformed in that time.
The Gambling Act 2005, which was introduced before the advent of the iPhone, liberalised gambling laws, unleashing television advertising and making Britain the first country to permit online gambling.
Since then, the gambling industry’s revenues have soared. William Hill – fined a record sum by the Gambling Commission on Tuesday for failing in its duties towards customers – is no exception.
The gross gambling yield – the amount gambling firms win from customers – jumped from £8.36bn in 2008 to more than £14bn last year.
Much of this growth was driven by online gambling, which overtook bingo operators, betting shops, casinos and other “land-based” operators for the first time in 2019.
Research on problem gambling varies in its estimation of the problem.
According to the UK Health Security Agency around 246,000 people, or 0.5% of the adult population, probably have some form of gambling addiction and the NHS is facing record demand for help with gambling addictions.
Campaigners and politicians have been calling for urgent reform and the Conservative party pledged to review gambling laws in its 2019 general election manifesto.
A White Paper was promised in December 2020 but has been repeatedly delayed (Whitehall sources say it could be published before Easter).
When published, it is expected to include a ban on so-called VIP packages on betting sites, tighter financial controls and a levy on gambling companies to help fund treatment and awareness programmes.
Campaigners will be watching out for a cap on maximum stakes on online slot machines.
This could be restricted to between £2- £5, bringing them in line with the high street, and is a move that some online operators have already undertaken.
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The White Paper could also include stricter affordability checks that require companies to check bank statements or payslips from customers losing more than £100 each month.
Football sponsorship will be another closely-watched issue. The government is unlikely to legislate on this but may pressure clubs to take a voluntary stance against gambling sponsorship- both on shirts and on pitch-side LED screens.
Iain Duncan Smith, vice chair of the parliamentary body on gambling related harm, said: “We need to have a much more aggressive position from the commission ( the regulator), which is based very clearly on what they are failing to do and the damage that it causes to lives.
“So the white paper will deal with that, they’ve always needed powers but at least they’re showing now they have a determination to exercise what powers they have.
“With greater powers I think it will start to bring some of those wild companies under control.”
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