One of the biggest focuses for the UK gambling scene lately has been the publication of a gambling reform white paper. Anti-gambling campaigners have been pushing and pushing for change in the country on this front for many years already, but it was only in 2020 that the Government undertook serious measures to try and sort the issues out. Terms of reference and a call for evidence was sought out in December of that year, with the idea of reworking the Gambling Act 2005 so that it caters to a more modern-day, digital age.
A white paper was supposed to be published towards the end of 2021 on the changes that were to be introduced, and this has since been pushed back twice already. A further hold-up has meant that it will now be published in June, although with significant U-turns noted on various things that had been reported to be immovable decisions. The crackdown on betting giants across the United Kingdom will actually now not be as harsh as expected, which has prompted mass outrage from various people and sectors in the country.
The plans, which will be published next month – unless further delays halt the Government once more from doing so – are now not expected to be anywhere near as threatening to gambling operators as initially believed.
One of the primary changes that the new white paper was expected to originally introduce was the sponsorship of Premier League football clubs by gambling firms. This is said to no longer be the case, which leaves the industry to continue sponsoring prominent UK football teams and their kits going forward.
A Watering Down of Gambling Reforms
For many years, gambling companies have been free to sponsor teams, with their logos appearing on the kits of many well-known, prime football clubs. And this has been one of the main targets of gambling campaigners, with a large drive being made towards stopping such activity. A secondary plan in place was to introduce a “polluter pays” levy, which gambling firms would pay as a way of funding more research into addiction and other problems.
It is now believed that both of those plans will not be included in the gambling reforms, according to officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Speaking on the information that these changes will no longer be part of the white paper, Liz Ritchie said families that have suffered the effects of gambling harm would be “up in arms”. She herself lost her teacher son Jack to suicide when he was 24 years old, after suffering from a gambling addiction. “This is not what we have been promised”, she continued.
Backing her up, the co-chairman of Gambling with Lives, a campaigning charity, said that at least one person loses their life as a result of gambling each day. As a way of protecting the public from the industry,
“we need a ban on sponsorship of football including all advertising in grounds and a statutory levy for independent public health messaging and NHS treatment”.
And it has sparked outrage from Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who vowed to “go to war” with the powers that be over it. “I will find ways to revel”, said the member of the all-party parliamentary group for gambling-related harm. “I will not compromise on the levy”, he confirmed.
Casinos and Betting Firms Threatened by Proposed Taxes
The decision behind the watering down of the proposals likely came about following negative backlash from the gambling industry itself over potential changes. The Betting and Gaming Council in the UK warned that if a flat-rate levy was imposed on betting firms in the country, then about a third of the casinos operating would be tipped into a loss, with a threat of 3,000 people losing their jobs.
Rather than a ban entirely on football kit sponsorship, ministers have hoped to enter into an agreement with Premier League clubs over the proceeding fortnight. This would see the gambling companies’ names removed from shirts, but the sponsorship would continue. This, of course, would just be in a much less visible way. As a result, football clubs like Newcastle and West Ham would not be running around with Fun88 and Betway, respectively, emblazoned on their kits. As it happens, Newcastle’s new kit has been revealed without a sponsor on it, although there has been no confirmation yet upon whether a new sponsor is being utilised.
The white paper is still expected to include necessities for affordability checks to take place at gambling sites, and it is thought that maximum stakes of between £2 and £5 on slot machines are to be brought into law.
The United Kingdom has one of the world’s largest and most liberal betting markets. It had profits of £14.2 billion in 2019, but Public Health England (PHE) estimated that there is an economic burden of £1.27 billion each year placed on the country due to gambling addiction.
The watering down of the original gambling reforms are not likely to be of any comfort to the family of Josh Hall, though. The 28-year-old NHS worker stepped in front of a high-speed train during 2020’s lockdown, when the Paddy Power brand allowed him to bet and lose £12,500 in a matter of a few days. Around half of his average salary was wagered at the company’s betting site the week prior to his suicide, with his addiction spiralling out of control.
The victim’s mother, Shelley Hall, said that she had asked the gambling company why it had allowed her son to gamble thousands of pounds within a 24-hour period. And despite the losses suffered by Mr Hall triggering an alarm on the Paddy Power automated system, nobody from the brand’s ‘responsible gambling’ team contacted him. Instead, an automated email was sent along asking him if he was happy with his losses!
Investigators also discovered that he had been offered a loan of £51,000 to be able to consolidate his gambling debts and various other payday loan offers. Flutter Entertainment, which currently owns Paddy Power, said that it has made “significant changes” regarding player protection since the death of Mr Hall.