Originally due next week

UK White Paper on gambling review sees publication postponed for a fourth time until PM is replaced

UK PM Boris Johnson.
Reading time 3:47 min

Following UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation, which came as a consequence of a decimated party that also saw the exit of Gambling Minister Chris Philp, proposals to reform gambling laws have been once again postponed. This is the fourth time the amendment gets pushed back, and campaigners warn the delay could “cost lives."

The Guardian reports that advisers to the Prime Minister concluded that a White Paper, which was scheduled to be published next week, could not go ahead until a new leader of the Conservative party was elected to replace Johnson. 

The delays also come amid an alleged tussle between different Tory party fractions over the content of the plans. A rift was reported as emerging at the top of the Conservative party when it came to the ban of sponsorship on football shirts, and the imposition of a levy to fund addiction services. 

Chris Philp, former gambling MP.

Pro-reform MPs, led by Iain Duncan Smith, intended to persuade Boris Johnson that further restrictions on gambling could help strengthen his legacy, and were hopeful of success after the White Paper was scheduled for next Tuesday. However, senior adviser David Canzini has allegedly told Johnson that he could not publish it as it would require legislation from his successor. 

MPs expressed concerns earlier this week that advisers with past ties to the gambling industry, including Canzini, might obstruct or dilute proposed reforms such as affordability checks or mandatory levy to fund addiction services, The Guardian further reported. On Wednesday, ministers dropped plans to push through an online safety bill next week on similar grounds, leading to allegations of a vacuum at the heart of government.

The White Paper is the culmination of a review announced in 2019, and this is the fourth time it has been shelved. The delay means proposals will not be published until a new Tory leader is elected in September, at the earliest. 

A spokesperson for the Gambling With Lives charity, set up by parents of suicide victims product of gambling addiction, voiced dismay at the latest postponement, claiming that thousands more people will be harmed in consequence.  

“Ministers spent two years assessing evidence to develop a white paper, which we hear has been stopped by a single unelected official with links to the gambling industry. The next PM be warned - bereaved families will be knocking down the door and demanding rapid reform when they take office in September," the spokesperson said.

Duncan Smith also addressed the delay, stating he was “very sorry." The MP, who previously said he was ready to "go to war" over the reforms, is backing Liz Truss to lead the Conservative party, as he said she was “keen to do something” on gambling. He said he didn't know about Rishi Sunak's -the former chancellor and leadership race frontrunner- views on the matter.

The gambling white paper falls under the auspices of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Damian Collins has now been appointed as the minister in charge of both technology and gambling at the department after the departure of Chris Philp, who oversaw the white paper but was among the ministers whose resignation helped force the prime minister to step down. His resignation letter urged Johnson to publish the white paper in its “full and undiluted” form. 

The government is said to introduce new measures such as maximum stakes and a ban on gambling companies to issue free bets and so-called VIP packages to customers who lose heavily; along with affordability checks described as “non-intrusive."

Ministers would not ban gambling operators from appearing as sponsors on shirts in the Premier League, a much-discussed proposition. Instead, a voluntary agreement with top-flight clubs would be instated, with the option of introducing legislation in the future. The DCMS was expected to make a decision this month regarding betting shirt sponsorships as part of the review, with the outcome scheduled for July 21. 

Even though the reform is likely to be watered down, the reported changes would still have far-reaching implications, primarily for online gambling operators in the UK but potentially in Malta as well. 

Operators in both jurisdictions would be facing the consequences led by maximum stakes, as the effect of the extent of affordability checks will depend on the concept and interpretation of “non-intrusive”. 

A YouGov survey of UK gamblers carried out in January 2022 revealed that only 16% of bettors would be willing to comply with such checks, as it is said that gamblers would have to submit wage slips to online casinos to prove they can afford to gamble.

Should the White Paper be published and signed, the UK Gambling Commission would be given extra powers with extra funding paid for by the gambling industry. The UKGC and the Malta Gaming Authority are both regulators for online gambling, and these changes could bring about major repercussions in both countries, according to The Malta Independent.

A maximum stake on online casinos could have the same effects as the £2 maximum stake imposed on fixed-odds betting terminals in 2019, which resulted in a drop in their use by betting shop customers.

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