Could the New Sports Minister Bring an End to Gambling’s Golden Goose?

Goose Laying Golden EggThere were many high profile exits and moves in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle, but one which went under the radar somewhat was Nigel Huddleston’s promotion to the role of minister of sport in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

It was a surprise, to some extent, to see a Remain voter boosted into a fairly senior position, but perhaps shows that BoJo, eyebrow-raisingly, is going to allow bygones to be bygones.

The sports minister provides a number of key functions in the governance of sport and culture, and one area in which Huddleston has been outspoken in the past is the proliferation of gambling in the UK.

It is believed that the Gambling Act of 2005 will be reviewed shortly, with an aim to modernise its terms and ensure it is relevant to today’s digital society.

And as statistics regarding problem gambling continue to rise, it is thought that the new minister will look to implement a number of ways in which to tackle the problem – specifically, the scale of sponsorships from betting firms in football and other televised sporting events.

Ultimately, this period of consultation may lead to an outlawing of football shirts having betting companies advertising on the front of them.

Who is Nigel Huddleston MP?

The 49-year-old, who currently holds the parliamentary seat for the Mid Worcestershire region, has been promoted to the role having previously sat on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and acted as an Assistant Whip in the Conservative Party.

Nigel Huddleston Official Portrait

Nigel Huddleston Official Portrait (Chris McAndrew / CC BY)

From a business background, Huddleston has held his seat since 2015, and he was a fairly outspoken critic of the Leave campaign prior to the 2016 EU referendum.

It is notable that he has campaigned for gambling reform for a number of years, and was a vocal supporter of the campaign that saw Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops have their maximum stake cut to £2 – stating that ‘addictive and socially damaging impacts of gambling are being addressed at the same time as striking the right balance with responsible growth and a thriving sector.’

He is also outspoken about horse racing too, and specifically the use of the whip. He supports the BHA’s stance on minimal use of the ‘encouraging tool’, stating that he shares their ‘concern for the welfare of horses’, but that the provisions of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act provide adequate protection for racehorses.

What Does the Minister for Sport Do?

The minister for sport has a wide-ranging job role, but as the name suggests their main focus is to oversee the implementation and creation of legislation in sport and its supporting activities.

That includes things like gambling and lotteries, as well as other areas such as tourism and the – hold your laughter – Olympic Games legacy.

Huddleston will operate under the culture secretary, who is now Oliver Dowden after he ascended to that role in the PM’s reshuffle.

Whether Huddleston gets a long time in the role remains to be seen: he’s the fourth minister for sport in just 16 months!

What is the Gambling Act 2005?

The minister for sport will have a huge amount of say in any reforms of the Gambling Act 2005, which needs revising to reflect the changing technological and digital world that we find ourselves in.

The government has already committed to a full review of the act, and a number of topics – including shirt and tournament sponsorship – are likely to be on the table.

The Gambling Act originally led to the creation of the UK Gambling Commission, who remain as the government’s key regulatory body in the sector, and whose remit is to protect the vulnerable from problem betting behaviours and that operators conduct their business in a fair and transparent manner.

The Act also determines the rate of taxation that betting firms pay, particularly those based in off-shore locations.

How Will the Government Review Affect UK Gambling?

Currently, the Gambling Act allows for betting companies to advertise on TV and radio.

That changed recently when the option to ban adverts from whistle-to-whistle during big sporting events was agreed, and so we shouldn’t be surprised if this is extended further and gambling ads are banned pre-watershed to help protect children.

According to The Times newspaper, Huddleston also plans to tackle shirt sponsorship in football too, with a blanket ban potentially on the table. At the start of the 2019/20 season, 50% of English Premier League teams bore the branding of a betting firm on the front of their jerseys.

A ban on credit card betting has already been introduced, and it’s possible that Huddleston will unveil a raft of changes that would essentially act as ‘credit checks’ before a new betting account can be approved, i.e. is the individual vulnerable to spending what they cannot afford on betting?