The Memo: Gambling reform in the UK

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Gambling reform in the UK: where do things stand?

Sose Ebodaghe – 16 October 2023

Setting the reputation for being risk-adverse aside, Britons are no strangers to rolling the dice. The number of gamblers in the UK is increasing every year and is currently at an all-time high, with 44% of British people over 16 taking part. The law on gambling has not seen any major reform since the Gambling Act 2005, before the meteoric rise of online gambling in particular, and the absence of any real change in that time has prompted calls for reform.

Back in 2005, the intention of the government at the time was to develop a legal but profitable gambling industry, regulated for the benefit of the economy. But the development of the industry has come alongside a rapid increase in the cost of living over the last decade, something that critics point to as a catalyst for more reckless gambling among younger people hoping to win big in times of financial hardship. It’s a criticism that carries weight too, given that the majority of gamblers in the UK are under the age of 50. But the proliferation of online gambling among young people in recent years has pushed the current government to seriously consider the way that the activity is regulated.

As thing stand, almost anyone can place cash-free bets with relative ease, but this may be changing. Culture secretary Lucy Frazer has proposed a new white paper in a bid to combat gambling addiction by placing limits on how much money can be staked on a bet (£2 and £4 on online casino games) and imposing a mandatory levy on betting companies to subsidise public health initiatives (such as treatment and research on addiction). The move will also push for more stringent financial checks on gamblers.

Yet the move is still proving controversial. While the government has insisted that most casual gamblers won’t know that the financial checks are being carried out, there are worried that financial checks risk pushing the people most at risk to black market gambling where no affordability checks are carried out. In fact, recent surveys indicated that almost 60% of gamblers would consider turning to black market gambling if the checks are implemented. There is speculation too that the move will reduce the industry’s revenue by up to 8%. Despite opposition however, the changes are already slowly being rolled out nationwide, though they are yet to be formally enshrined in law. According to Frazer, the reforms will bring ‘smartphone regulations into the present day’, providing more control over betting practices, and provide the government with the resources to combat addiction early.