The UK government’s long-awaited White Paper on gambling reform, which is expected to be published in the coming weeks, is likely to be watered down according to The Times, but the reported changes will still have far-reaching implications, primarily for online gambling operators in the United Kingdom, and potentially for operators in Malta too.
The report revealed details of the steps the government is considering in its reform of gambling, which will have consequences for the gambling industry in the UK. This includes claims that ministers will not ban gambling operators from appearing as sponsorship on shirts in the Premier League, instead it is said there will be a voluntary agreement with top flight clubs, with the option of introducing legislation in the future. Furthermore, a mandatory levy that would be paid by gambling companies for the research and treatment of gambling addiction will also not be included.
Maximum stakes and affordability checks
But it is said the government will introduce measures such as maximum stakes of between £2 and £5, while gambling companies will be banned from issuing free bets and so-called VIP packages to customers who lose heavily. The White Paper will also reportedly include affordability checks described as “non-intrusive.”
Online casinos first appeared in the mid-1990s, but the boom in operators began after 2005 and there has been a knock-on effect with steady growth in areas such as new slots in the UK and other games ever since.
Online casino operators in the UK and Malta will be nervous about the level of the maximum stake, while the effect of the extent of affordability checks will depend on what is understood as “non-intrusive.” A YouGov survey of UK gamblers in January 2022 revealed that just 16% of punters would be willing to comply with such checks, as it is said that gamblers would have to submit wage slips to online casinos to show that they can afford to gamble. The potential checks have also raised fears of a rise in black market gambling.
Repercussions for gambling in the UK and Malta
It is said that the UK Gambling-Related Harms Commission will be given extra powers with extra funding paid for by the gambling industry. The UK Gambling Commission and the Malta Gaming Authority are both notable regulators for online gambling and these changes could result in major repercussions for the gambling industry in the UK and Malta. A maximum stake on online casinos could have the same effect 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.
The stated aims of the Malta Gaming Authority include protecting minors and the vulnerable while promoting responsible gaming in a safe environment. The MGA has also demonstrated its power by issuing fines to unlicensed operators in Malta.
According to figures released by the UK Gambling Commission in April 2022, 26% of those questioned above 16 years of age had taken part in online gambling over the previous month, an increase of 2% for the same period last year and up by 7% over five years. Betting on sporting events remains the most popular type of gambling online, with most bets placed on football.
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport spokesperson refused to comment on The Times report, but said: “We are undertaking the most comprehensive review of gambling laws in 15 years to ensure they are fit for the digital age.”
The imminent White Paper on gambling reform by the UK government is awaited with some trepidation by online casino operators. Although the content of the White Paper has not yet been confirmed, and the most stringent restrictions seem to have been jettisoned, it is clear the changes will still have an effect on the gambling industry in the UK and Malta