By Pavlos Sideris, Double Up Media Director

Gambling minister changes detrimental to industry and stakeholders

Pavlos Sideris has been involved in the iGaming industry for over 12 years and is director of Double Up Media, a UK-based affiliate lead generation company. Sideris values the importance of fairness and transparency in iGaming and believes in putting players before profit.

Reading time 3:19 min

The constant turnover of gambling ministers since 2018 is an indication of the turmoil that has been affecting UK politics. The gambling industry has become accustomed to it, but it does cause regulatory and commercial uncertainty, says Pavlos Sideris, director at Double Up Media.  

The old saying that a week is a long time in politics has taken on new meaning in the UK in recent years. From the departure of Boris Johnson, to Liz Truss and the economic and political instability her very short-lived tenure caused, to Rishi Sunak entering 10 Downing Street at the end of October, the fact that the UK has had three Prime Ministers since June has not been conducive to long-term thinking when it comes to either politics or policy. 

For the gambling industry of course it means further delays to the publication of the White Paper and very little visibility on when it will be published, but from a political management perspective; the constant churn, to use gambling industry parlance, also means constant changes of ministers with specific responsibility for gambling. Having so many new ministers take charge of the portfolio is problematic, whichever side of the fence one sits on gambling.

Eight ministers since 2018 

As in any sector, the more often a head of department is changed the more upheaval that causes to the teams that work in those departments; and for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which includes gambling, it is no different.

In fairness, the broad lines of the White Paper are fairly well-known, but still, the constant changes have not been helpful. A quick rundown of the ministerial changes illustrates this. 

At the turn of the century, Richard Caborn held the job of gambling minister for nearly six years. He was followed by Gerry Sutcliffe, who held the brief for around three years until 2010, when John Penrose took over. Caborn’s and Sutcliffe’s tenures were the two longest, by some distance, of the past 20 years.    

As the graphic from Regulus Partners below shows, since Tracey Crouch’s second stint as gambling minister and her resignation in November 2018, there have now been eight UK gambling ministers, with Paul Scully the latest to be named in the job.   As mentioned earlier, the broad outlines of the reforms that are expected in the White Paper are well known.

They will focus on: affordability, ‘smart stake’ limits, potential bans on online VIP schemes and targeting online bonuses based on a customers’ spend or losses.

  • Affordability: ‘passive’ checks around affordability limits set at £125 net loss within one month or £500 within a year, with detailed consideration of a customer’s financial situation kicking in at £1,000 over a 24-hour period or £2,000 within 90 days. 

  • ‘Smart stake’ limits: to be introduced for online slots with a low default of between £2-£5 per spin and an upper cap limit of between £10-£25 per spin after enhanced checks. 

  • Further measures will include bans on online VIP schemes and targeting online bonuses based on a customers’ spend or losses. 

No wagering required? 

However one of the key areas that is yet to be addressed is wagering requirements. These requirements matter to regulators and legislators because they matter (greatly in many cases) to players, who for many years have complained about lengthy and hard to meet terms and conditions imposed on them by operators.    

The requirements are usually attached to a bonus and mean players have to bet a set number of times in order to withdraw winnings, sparking the Gambling Commission’s concerns that they may encourage excessive play. Affiliate groups such as No Wagering have campaigned for fairer terms, but many operators still require players to wager winnings up to 100 times, against the industry average of 30, before they can withdraw.

Whether this will be one of the regulatory changes that is recommended by the White Paper will be one development industry stakeholders will be watching closely.

Politics as usual?

On the political side of things, the bulk of the focus will continue to be on the economy but as Lee Fenton, CEO of Bally Corporation, the parent company of UK brands such as Virgin Casino, Virgin Bingo and JackpotJoy, commented during the group’s recent third quarter results, first impressions of the new gambling minister Paul Scully have been positive. 

“They have a big in tray at DCMS, but I think the first impression is a positive, pro-business guy, and nothing to concern us. Expectations in terms of where it sits in the pecking order is difficult to call. The DCMS has two big things on its ticket at the moment. We expect them to push on (with the gambling review), but we don't necessarily expect it to be top of the priority list.”

The hope is that with Rishi Sunak in as Prime Minister the UK will have some stability and Scully and his teams will be able to master his gambling brief and provide a roadmap to reform, whatever shape those changes eventually take.

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