More on the white paper consultations...

More on the white paper consultations... - Banner
Paul Clare
by Paul Clare Last updated:

With the latest round of consultations on the government’s gambling white paper now underway, speculation is rife as to how the new laws and regulations will shape up. The first round of consultation closed in October with over 3,000 responses, and the Gambling Commission now has its work cut out to review the thoughts and reflections of stakeholders. 

Now that the second round is underway, a whole new series of policy proposals have come under the microscope, with the Commission likely to receive similar levels of feedback and engagement from parties impacted by the proposals. 

Under consideration in this round of consultations are bonuses and whether they encourage harmful or excessive gambling, financial penalties for non-compliance with licence terms, and the mandatory levy for research, prevention and training. But how are these likely to shape up once the consultation process has concluded?

Bonuses encourage gambling...?

Tim Miller, Executive Director of Research and Policy at the Gambling Commission, said the aim of this section of the consultation was to “consult on proposals relating to incentives such as free bets and bonuses, to make sure they do not encourage harmful or excessive gambling".

The Commission wants to establish whether welcome bonuses and other promotions offered by sports betting sites, slots sites and casinos are encouraging gambling to a "harmful" or "excessive" extent. While bonuses remain a natural part of the iGaming ecosystem for now, there are some specific areas they could look to target in formulating new policy.

Our view

Wagering requirements are something that could, and in our opinion should, be brought further under scrutiny. While there seems to be a trend towards more straightforward, honest bonuses, wagering requirements are still a fact of life with many free bets and bonuses. 

Wagering of 50x, 65x and the like generally renders a bonus almost unusable, particularly when a bonus of just £10 at 65x means £650 must be played through before withdrawing any winnings are permitted. 

It seems unlikely the Commission wouldn’t conclude that this encourages "excessive" betting. Particularly in the current climate, which is very much focused on protecting against gambling harm, it looks likely there will be a tightening around bonuses.

Financial penalties for non-compliance

On financial penalties for licence holders, the Commission has said it wants to “bring greater clarity and transparency to the way we calculate such penalties". As part of this, Miller said the Commission wants to “include measures to ensure that penalties are set at a level where the costs of non-compliance outweigh the costs of compliance".

It is hard to argue with the general thrust. In any licensing structure, the costs of non-compliance should be higher than the costs of compliance in order to avoid creating unwanted distortions in how licensees apply the rules. 

Our view

There shouldn’t be a viable option of a "buy-out" where licence-holders can effectively choose to absorb the cost of financial penalties. 

A new, and more transparent scheme for calculating penalties would provide greater certainty for licence holders and put breaches into perspective, financially. At No Wagering, we welcome the prospect of controlling more wayward licence holders and ensuring a broader base of compliance with gambling policy.

The mandatory RET levy

The often-discussed mandatory RET levy, which will see operators compelled to pay a levy set at a percentage of revenue towards research, prevention and treatment of gambling harms, is next for review in this phase of the consultation. 

It seems like the Gambling Act will include some kind of levy. But the question is how the levy will shape up, and the percentage that will be set.

The Betting and Gaming Council has tentatively welcomed suggestions of a levy, provided it is adjusted for different types of operators – for example, brick-and-mortar betting shops paying a different percentage rate to online casinos, to reflect the higher operating costs incurred by physical premises. 

The BGC also suggested that the National Lottery should no longer be exempt from paying a levy, which is an interesting idea and feels hard to argue against. It’s not immediately clear the Lottery would be within the scope of the levy, given its sui generis licensing status.

Our view

In reality, levies are already paid voluntarily by major players in the industry and RET programmes receive sizeable funding, but there’s always room for improvement. Unfortunately, with many operators ignoring the current voluntary setup, a select few are bearing the brunt.

We welcome calls to ensure all operators are making a fair contribution to research and education. For most people, gambling is a fun pastime but we can’t ignore the fact that some players are vulnerable and more susceptible to problematic gambling behaviour. If RET can protect those people, then as much funding as possible should be made available.

Have your say

The second round of the consultation is set to close in February 2024, meaning there's still a few weeks for responses to be sent to the UKGC. 

New laws will be heavily influenced by the views of the Commission, so it’s important that the whole industry has a chance to potentially influence any proposed changes. 

You can have your say and help shape the future gambling landscape by responding to the consultation. The public response portal closes on 21 February, so make sure your voice is heard in time.