With the UK election campaign in full swing, one thing gambling operators can be certain of is a likely overhaul of existing legislation. Barely an election goes by without one or both of the main parties choosing to meddle in the structure of gambling regulation, despite a global reputation for fairness that puts the UK Gambling Commission at the top of the pile internationally.
While the Gambling Commission no doubt has its failings, the system in the UK has broadly been seen to work well for a number of years, fostering the growth of legitimate, regulated industries, particularly online and on mobile.
But all that could be about to change, with the announcement that the Conservatives are pledging a full review of the Gambling Act. Among the issues up for an overhaul are gambling on credit and the legality of so-called loot boxes in video games, which are currently not regulated by the Gambling Commission.
The review will also look at e-wallets and whether these are obscuring operators from identifying the source of funds used for gambling. Any change to the law here could have further implications for operators, as well as for the e-wallet companies themselves, and would likely up the compliance burden on both, as a means of ensuring more transparency in funding to protect against risks to individual gamblers, as well as the threat of money laundering through online casino platforms.
The news that Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are to adopt this approach to gambling brings them somewhere in line with the opposition Labour Party, which has in recent years become increasingly vocal about its disdain for the gambling sector. No champion of consumer choice, Labour are seemingly intent on introducing even more wide-ranging restrictions on gambling operators, including compulsory additional levies to tackle problem gambling.
This comes despite previous Labour administrations being much more supportive of a legalised gambling sector, including support for new casinos and establishing the gambling regulator in the first place.
While unlikely to form any part of shaping gambling policy after the December 12 election, the Liberal Democrats have announced their intention to create a new Gambling Ombudsman, which would work alongside the Gambling Commission. However, the policy still lacks clarity and detail, with no further information available about the specific role or remit the Ombudsman might have.
The Conservative line ties in with some of the recommendations from the UK Gambling Commission, which of course seeks to extend its remit into further areas of online gambling and related transactions. While the Gambling Commission usually favours extending its powers, it is at least commendable that the Conservatives are not proposing going any further than the Gambling Commission’s recommendations – something which wasn’t the case under the previous Conservative administration, when FOBT limits were slashed far below UKGC recommended levels.
Nevertheless, the policy positions seem to reflect the easy and cheap votes politicians in the UK find in opposing a legal, defined structure of regulated gambling.
The issue here is that many non-gamblers find the idea of clamping down on gambling appealing, wrongly assuming the levels of problem gambling and gambling addiction are higher than they are. Even at present, the industry goes to some lengths to fund education and treatment for those suffering from the ill-effects of gambling, while enforcing measures designed to protect vulnerable gamblers from harm.
While there is no doubt merit in lawmakers looking to ensure gambling regulation is fit for purpose and provides adequate consumer protection for vulnerable groups, it comes at the risk of limiting the gambling freedoms of consenting adults.
This in turn runs the risk of impacting what is overall a successful system of regulation in the UK, not to mention the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on it.
While lawmakers are free to score political points on gambling regulation, it’s important to bear in mind that this comes with risks too – the often unintended consequences of excessive regulation.