Tottenham Report: Debate heats up ahead of Gambling Act review White Paper this spring By Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports January 5, 2022 at 10:00 pm The first quarter of this year should see publication of the UK government’s Gambling Act review White Paper. It was due late last year, but recent reports suggest the government has put it on hold until after February, when the Gambling Commission of Great Britain (GC) announces who has been awarded the next National Lottery contract. It has been a long journey to this point. The current legislation was enacted in 2005 and needless to say, much has changed since then. Much has changed even since the review was announced in December 2020. The call for evidence as part of the review closed on 31 March 2021, but already, signs have emerged that perhaps not all angles were considered. Just this week, reports have begun to circulate that Members of Parliament (MPs) are now keen to place the regulation of cryptocurrencies under the remit of the new Gambling Act. Somewhat unsurprisingly, this instantly rings alarm bells. While crypto should always have come under the remit of this review, given its already manifest prevalence in online gambling products, there is a stark difference between regulating the use of crypto for the purpose of gambling and regulating crypto itself. If the blockchain is used to store data on medical records in future, will the GC have to regulate the NHS too? It is yet another example of MPs totally misunderstanding the emerging technologies they are attempting to regulate. They are debating buzzwords instead of nuance. But it is not just the emerging technologies that run the risk of being misunderstood, as Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) Michael Dugher outlined in a comment piece for the Telegraph on Monday. Expressing his concern that the gambling industry may be about to fall foul of “COVID mission creep”, Dugher urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure that changes to gambling legislation are “evidence led” and not to allow “prohibitionists” to have unwarranted influence on the debate. “Many voters see betting, and the sports which rely on revenues from betting, as part of their culture”, he said. “Boris Johnson has enough on his plate without picking another fight with Tory MPs concerned about state interference in personal freedoms.” Dugher is a former Labour MP and shadow secretary of state. No surprise, then, that his comment piece had an overtly political bent, but it is an important point. It is a perennial problem for this industry that it is, in Dugher words, compared to “drugs or tobacco, things which are intrinsically and universally harmful, rather than alcohol – something that most people don’t have an issue with, but where we need to act to help the minority who develop a problem.” At some stage, it would be useful for government to make the distinction, although some would argue that drugs and alcohol are also subject to wrong-headed regulation, so perhaps that specific comparison is not the problem, but making comparisons at all. Gambling needs bespoke regulation, agreed upon after consideration of relevant issues and data, not on gut feelings about the industry’s moral compass. The question is now, will the White Paper do that? “The truth is anti-gambling campaigners don’t want to see safer gambling. They want to see less gambling. Stricter regulation may well see the regulated industry shrink in size, but it will not lead to a reduction in gambling”, Dugher argues, before heading into a well-worn explanation of how poorly devised regulation affects channelisation. France, Norway, Italy, and Spain, which have tougher restrictions on licensed operators, also have a larger black-market share than the UK, he argues, citing a PwC report. While all this may be true, there is no denying that consumer protection has to be front and centre when regulating the industry, as it is with any other regulated industry, and Dugher acknowledges this. “I hope one of the big priorities for ministers in this review will be child protection. A report by the regulator found the proportion of young people who gamble fell from 23% to 11% between 2011 and 2019. But that is still far too high”, he said. “The main types of gambling by 11- to 16-year-olds are private bets between friends, scratchcards, fruit machines, and playing cards. We need to build on the good work, funded by the industry, to better educate youngsters about gambling-related harm.” One would hope that child protection is a given when it comes to gambling regulation or any regulation. It is illegal for children to gamble and as such, regulating their participation in the industry is relatively straightforward. Understanding adult gambling habits, their cultural perception of gambling, and the associated risks is far more nuanced and remains under-researched. Let’s hope the White Paper is bold enough to remain focused on the real issues and challenge some long-held misconceptions.