The UK gambling reform has been a contentious topic and point of intense discussion for several years now. The government have struggled to walk the fine line between pleasing the public and protecting vulnerable members of society, and ensuring that the gambling industry remains profitable without too much red tape. After months of promising to release the white paper, the government have finally taken a step forward, although the white paper still hasn’t been published, and it seems that the changes that were made to the white paper before publishing have actually kept very few people happy.
Changes in Sponsorship Deals
For the last few years, campaigners have fought for restrictions on the kinds of sponsorship and advertising that prominent sports teams can accept – in particular the advertising on team uniforms and pitch hoardings.
The law has barely been updated in the past two decades; the current law bans bookmakers and casinos from advertising on broadcast media before the 9 pm watershed. Despite this ban on advertising, there is no reference made towards the same companies sponsoring an event that is broadcast before the 9 pm cut-off. This has led to a culture of bookmakers and casinos sponsoring prominent teams and venues during matches that will be broadcast, in order to get around the ban. It also means that they get double the advertising for their money – both in person and on TV.
Campaigners have spent years arguing that this kind of advertising is deeply harmful. With the growing number of problem bettors in the UK, they argue that it’s vital to implement a ban sooner rather than later. Protesters have argued that betting company shirt sponsorships stop vulnerable people and recovering problem gamblers from being able to enjoy the game. They also argue that football shirt sponsorships could be promoting gambling to underage fans who are only there to watch the game.
After years of campaigning, it looked as if the government had listened, with a ban on front-of-shirt advertising being one of the main talking points in the government’s own reform literature. This made the news even more disappointing when the government announced the newly watered-down gambling reform plan. Rumours erupted of a standoff between senior members of the Conservative party over the proposed ban of shirt sponsorships. The news that the White Paper will not include regulations on the best online casinos appearing as shirt sponsors for Premier League clubs has led to many campaigners being upset.
What Will The White Paper Announce?
The Times published an article that stated that football teams would be able to continue agreeing with sponsorships with betting companies and that the teams would be free to continue displaying bookmaker logos on their shirts, as the recommendation is unlikely to be included in the reform. The report stated that the ban would be dropped in favour of leaving Premier League clubs to make a voluntary agreement instead. Some MPs reacted angrily to the article, saying that the issues are still being discussed and could go ahead. This shocking report came just days before The Mail broke the story that Boris Johnson’s policy chief, Andrew Griffith, who is in charge of leading the reform, was the finance chief for Sky Bet until 2019. Top Tory party members called it a massive conflict of interest and pushed to have Mr Griffith removed from all future reform discussions. The revelation lends credibility to the rumour that these changes have been made due to backlash from top members of the betting industry.
Campaigners have reacted with understandable shock and anger at the potential decision, calling it a massive step backwards. Liz Ritchie co-founded the charity Gambling With Lives which sheds a light on suicides as a result of gambling-related harm after her son took his own life, having become addicted to gambling while he was still at school. She said “every day at least one person takes their life because of gambling. Every delay to the reform means more families shattered”. Labour MP Carolyn Harris agreed, saying that the review process had “gone on for long enough”.
What Else Can We Expect?
The much-awaited White Paper and gambling reform has been in discussion for a number of years, with several events causing it to be delayed. However, many are expecting that if it is finally released this year a big chunk of it is going to cover online gambling and what changes the industry should introduce. There have been several changes over recent years but many feel that the main UK Gambling Commission regulations haven’t kept up enough with customer demand and therefore are outdated in terms of keeping online gamblers safe. Changes that are expected include the amount gamblers can stake at a slot machine at one time – which could be bought into line with what we see in place for physical slot machines, which recently underwent an overhaul too.
Although the details are unclear, the gambling industry is expecting some changes in regards to what they can offer customers in terms of incentives. They may be some changes to things like welcome offers and free games as well as a possible ban on things like online VIP areas and games reserved for people who have spent minimum amounts. It is thought that the White Paper is going to address how tempting online gambling is and how online gambling operators need to do more to ensure that they aren’t encouraging in vulnerable gamblers. This could mean that more responsibility is placed in the hands of operators in terms of checking gambling habits and making sure that they offer support to those that need it – however, of course, we’ll need to wait for the White Paper to be officially released before we know for sure.
Having been delayed again, will the reform white paper ever be published? Pressure is mounting on the government, but with so many members of parliament stepping down from their posts it provides a credible excuse for yet more delays while front-benchers continue to argue the finer points of the reform.