White Paper on rules for online gambling lays its cards on the table

The Scotsman
White Paper on rules for online gambling lays its cards on the table
Wild Casino

New plans to increase the regulation of online gambling in the UK in a Government White Paper contain few surprises and leave many questions unanswered.

Reforms proposed in the “Gambling reform for the digital age” policy paper include a new statutory levy on gambling companies that is set to replace the current voluntary system. The levy rate, which will be subject to further consultation, will take into account factors like business size, operating costs and problem gambling rates.

Levy proceeds will be spent by the Gambling Commission on funding for research, education and treatment, including through the NHS, of gambling addiction, subject to government approval.

The paper outlines plans for a new stake limit for online slots to help prevent “large losses, long sessions, and binge play”. Unlike land-based gaming machines, online slots currently have no statutory stake limits.

The government will launch a consultation on how high the default maximum stake should be set between £2 and £15 per spin, with a second consultation considering options for specific protections for under-25s, including a lower stake limit or other controls.

Betting companies will also be required to conduct “seamless” player protection checks on high-spending gamblers to ensure that they are not incurring harmful losses. These checks will take place “instantaneously”, and “will not impact gameplay”, unless there are signs of financial harm.

It said such checks will be targeted, and that 80 per cent of players will never undergo them, and will happen in the background against information already available online, so those who are checked will not notice.

While the paper focuses on strengthening controls in the online sector, in truth, it holds few surprises. The proposed stake limit for online slots was always on the cards, as were more prescriptive rules on when online operators must check customers’ financial circumstances through “financial risk checks”.

The Gambling Commission advocated, and positively encouraged, data sharing between operators, but it will now be mandatory for high-risk customers. The data protection implications of this are unclear at present.

Local authorities will be pleased by the proposed new powers to conduct cumulative impact assessments when considering new applications, as well as the review of the fees which councils can charge for premises licences. In Scotland, at last, local authorities can look forward to the same enforcement powers as officials in England & Wales.

The paper also said that bonuses can drive harmful behaviour and the Gambling Commission will examine how bonus offers, such as free bets and spins, are constructed and targeted.

Ministers will also review online game design rules to limit speed of play and other characteristics that exacerbate risks, and examine the current horserace betting levy to make certain racing continues to be appropriately funded for the future.

Interestingly, there is no proposal to ban football sponsorship by gambling companies although there is a voluntary agreement with English Premiership clubs which will see the removal of front of shirt sponsorship from 2026.

I suspect that the proposed reforms will not go far enough for some politicians and health professionals, but they will also have an opportunity to contribute to the consultations.

Audrey Ferrie, Consultant and licensing specialist at Pinsent Masons