A year-long delay to reform will lead to more gambling addicts dying; the government has warned, as experts called the proposals published on Thursday a “missed opportunity”.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published a 268-page white paper that changed existing regulations, which pre-dated 24-hour casino games and sports betting in every smartphone pocket.
The content of the proposals, which have already been delayed on at least four occasions, has received widespread support from MPs and campaigners but have faced criticism for straying away from a ban on advertising.
The proposed reform includes:
A compulsory tax on industrial income.
A more difficult test of the ability to prevent massive damage.
Online slot machine bets are capped between £2 and £15.
Blocking “Free Spins” and “Bonus” offers
Mechanisms to slow down online casino games.
More resources for gambling commissions.
A gambling ombudsman scheme.
Some measures, such as affordability tests and online slot limits, will be stricter for 18- to 24-year-olds, who are more at risk of addiction.
The culture secretary, Lucy Fraser, told the House of Commons that the white paper would improve regulation of an industry that, at its worst, could “destroy lives”.
Ministers are bringing pre-smartphone rules up to date as part of a gambling white paper for the digital age.
It will take a year for the Gambling Commission and DCMS to finalize the details of the measures in time for planned implementation in the summer of 2024.
Experts, campaigners and MPs had expressed concern about further delays in a process due to start in late 2020 when the government begins a review promised in Boris Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto.
As a result of these recommendations, Dr Matt Gaskell, who runs the Northern Gambling Service for the NHS, said, “The industry will continue to reap huge profits while people suffer and die.”
Labour’s Caroline Harris, who co-chairs a cross-party group of MPs to examine the harms of gambling, welcomed an “important day” but said it was time for “quick and immediate action” rather than fresh delays.
The White Paper contains no significant measures to crack down on gambling advertising. Professor Henrietta Bodden-Jones, a leading addiction expert, spoke on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to say she was “disappointed” had not taken that action to curb gambling advertising and sponsorship.
“As with alcohol and tobacco, there is a very strong case to ban or severely limit gambling advertising and sponsorship on public health grounds,” he said.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, founded by personal finance guru Martin Lewis, echoed calls for a ban on the ads and said it was “disappointing” that so many measures were being taken to advise.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do this over the summer break”, accused the government of dragging its feet, the shadow culture minister, Lucy Powell.
A new campaign group called Gambling with Lives is seeking a total ban on all gambling advertising after the suicide of Jack Ritchie’s father and mother.
Ministers were said to be reluctant to ban advertising because they were not convinced it had a significant effect on gambling behaviour. Earlier this year, Premier League football clubs voted to stop gambling sponsorships on player shirts from 2026 but elected to keep the most visible form of gambling advertising, the pitchside display.
Although the government expects its proposals to cut gambling industry revenues by £800m, shares in the biggest gambling companies gained, signalling investor relief that the plans, many of which had been leaked in advance, were not draconian.
The white paper will update the 2005 Gambling Act, passed by the Labor government under Tony Blair, which liberalized the laws governing the sector to nurture a world-leading industry.
It would loosen controls on land-based casinos, allowing them to install more gaming machines and offer sports betting and lines of credit to high-rollers from overseas.
Instead, it would clamp down on online gambling, which now accounts for most of the £10bn a year British punters earn, excluding the National Lottery.
Fraser said the rapid growth of internet gambling meant the industry was “unrecognizable” compared to the pre-smartphone era, and addicts faced huge losses.
He said: “When gambling becomes an addiction, it can destroy lives. Torn families. Loss of jobs. Foreclosed homes. Jail time. Suicide.
“These are all extreme scenarios, but we must recognize that for some families, the worst fears for their loved ones have materialized.”
A string of high-profile tragedies and wider concerns about addicts, vulnerable people and children have prompted growing calls for ministers to act. A record fine has been imposed on William Hill after multiple customers lost thousands of pounds within minutes of opening an account, despite the increased spotlight on the industry.
According to a government impact assessment, the measures could cut industry revenue by 8%, which equates to £800m. The white paper states that “much of this will be lost revenue from consumers whose gambling has harmed”.
Paddy Power owner Flutter has told the stock market that the changes could cost between £50m and £100m a year.