The long-awaited White Paper on gambling reform in the UK

The long-awaited White Paper on gambling reform in the UK

The long-awaited White Paper on gambling reform in Britain was the subject of discussion at the first day of the SiGMA Europe 2023 conference. After nearly 30 months, six Gambling Ministers, three Prime Ministers, two Monarchs, 16,000 responses, several leaks, a World Cup and a global pandemic, the panel discussed the White Paper and next steps following the flurry of consultations published in recent months. It also evaluated where some of the paper elements might impact other gaming markets.

John Hagan
John Hagan, Managing Partner, Harris Hagan.
Kizzie Fenner, senior legal counsel, William Hill.

In his keynote before the panel discussion, moderator John Hagan focused on the insistence of the Gambling Commission (UKGC) regarding ‘frictionless checks’ for the vast majority of players. He explained how it is expected, according to the GC that 3% of accounts will be affected but only 0.3% of clients will be asked to produce bank statements. He added that the challenges facing the implementation of the new regulations include the lack of a single customer view and the fact that, in practice, “there is no effective frictionless solution for unintrusive checks”. On the plus side, Hagan was optimistic that the majority of operators would welcome more consistent thresholds. Dan Waugh, however, was not so optimistic, hinting at the possibility that the UKGC would move the thresholds at will. He added that the checks that are being proposed are an imposition that individuals might not want, and from a western liberal mentality, this does not sit well. In practice, he added, this might result in players having multiple accounts or switching to “grey” operators and in lieu of a single customer view, there is no way to regulate. Roger Parkes added that the Commission’s excessive focus on protectionism has come at the expense of and not for the benefit of consumers.

Kizzie Fenner, referring to the White Paper suggestion of regulating direct marketing, noted that this effectively results in dual regulation, as marketing is an area where regulation already exists. Adding to this, Parkes, added that it is easy to forget the impact and lose sight of the sheer scale of all the regulation and potential repercussions on players, operators and the general gaming ecosystem.

Roger Parkes
Roger Parkes, Director of Compliance & Regulatory Affairs, Betway.

The discussion continued with Parkes asking if there is a better relationship between the industry and the UKGC. He suggested that over time, the relationship soured to what it is today as a result of the Commission’s focus on inspections and enforcement rather than an effort to engage with the industry. Fenner added that there would always be an inherent tension between any industry and its regulator, but added that she had witnessed a positive shift with the UKGC’s commitment to collaborate with the industry and gave the example of the set up of affordability working groups and dedicated account managers for licensees which effectively means that there is now a direct line of communication with the Commission. Stephanie Wong agreed and added that the presence of Andrew Rhodes at the Commission is a “definite improvement” in the relationship between the regulator and the regulated, but more work is needed. Acknowledging that there are “great people” at the Commission,  Waugh, however, questions the extent to which the Commission is really listening to the industry.

Stephanie Wong
Stephanie Wong, Head of Policy, Betting and Gaming Council.
Dan Waugh
Dan Waugh, Partner, Regulus Partners.

As the panel discussion unfolded, divergent views underscored the complexities woven into the fabric of gambling regulations. The skepticism voiced by Waugh regarding the potential flexibility of thresholds mirrored a broader concern about the industry’s adaptability to the evolving regulatory landscape. Fenner’s observations on dual regulation and Parkes’ critique of the Commission’s protective stance illuminated the delicate balance required to safeguard both industry interests and consumer well-being. The discussion culminated with a reflection on the evolving relationship between the industry and the UKGC — a relationship marked by tension, enforcement concerns, and glimpses of collaboration. While there was acknowledgment of positive strides, particularly with initiatives like affordability working groups, questions lingered about the depth of the Commission’s engagement with industry insights. As the regulatory journey unfolds, the dialogue echoed the challenge of balancing control with cooperation, an essential element for fostering an environment that not only protects but also nurtures the vitality of the gaming ecosystem.

Join us in Malta for SiGMA Europe 2023

SiGMA Europe’s Malta Week festival brings together a diverse and international group of industry leaders for a convergence of expo, conference, and networking. The event is held at the Mediterranean Maritime Hub (MMH), a larger, more dynamic venue that promises a raw, industrial, and unconventional space unlike anything ever used before.

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