UK Government Seeks Third Gambling Minister This Year as Damian Collins Stands Down

Houses of Parliament and Westminster BridgeIt’s starting to look as though the UK government’s review of the Gambling Act might never happen.

First Boris, then Liz, now Rishi: all have taken the keys to 10 Downing Street, and each has reshuffled their cabinet to their own tastes.

Sunak has made a number of changes to his top team, with the Teflon-like Dominic Raab, Oliver Dowden and Suella Braverman back in the fold and the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Wendy Morton out on their ear.

Also seeking alternative employment is Damian Collins, the former Gambling Minister who has worked closed with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on the forever-delayed Gambling White Paper and also the Online Safety Bill, which will police social media and other forms of online interaction.

Collins has decided to step down from the role and return to the backbenches, which leaves the government seeking their third Gambling Minister of 2022 and the sixth to contribute to the White Paper review.

It means further delays and disruption to two increasingly-important legislative documents, and for the UK gambling industry it means further upheaval and uncertainty as to when – or perhaps even if – new rules will be introduced.

Michelle Donelan has been retained as culture secretary, and she has had an input into the Gambling Act review alongside her predecessors Nadine Dorries and Dowden.

But the question remains: when will it actually see the light of day?

Taking Control

With the betting sector in limbo, the UK Gambling Commission has stepped up to the plate to try and restore some sense of order.

Since the start of August, they have sanctioned seven different operators – taking in total fines of a staggering £24 million.

And according to reports, they have not been backward in coming forward when it comes to enforcing advanced safety measures either – some bookmakers have described the regulator as ‘increasingly assertive’ on that front.

So forceful has the Commission been that 888, who have taken over William Hill’s UK operations this year, have reported a 7% loss in year-on-year revenue. They have attributed that to new safety measures, which include affordability checks and slowed-down online slot games, introduced last summer.

Some of the more stringent measures rumoured to be included in the White Paper include affordability checks, which would require even some recreational punters to prove their earnings/financial stability by providing bookies with bank statements and payslips.

It’s a scenario that could push punters to unregulated offshore bookies and even the black market as they seek to navigate such rules, and horse racing chiefs believe that could cost the sport as much as £100 million per year in lost levy revenue.

What is the Online Safety Bill?

It seems increasingly likely that the Online Safety Bill will take precedence over the Gambling Act review as far as a new statutory framework being unveiled is concerned.

This, like the White Paper, has been delayed numerous times due to the chaos on Downing Street, and the fear is that further delays will leave children and vulnerable adults prey to potential abuse online.

The Online Safety Bill has a mandate of increasing the safety of all internet users while protecting the right to free speech, with the aim of making the UK the ‘safest place in the world’ to use the web.

Typically, the Bill has been sat gathering dust since May 2021, and means that tighter controls imposed upon social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as search engines such as Google, have not been implemented.

The need for stricter legislation has been brought into sharper focus by Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter. The tech entrepreneur has described himself as a ‘free speech absolutist’, and the fear is that the platform may become akin to a Wild West of divisive or inappropriate content.

The Online Safety Bill will also require platforms to move more quickly to remove illegal content, or face punishments including fines of up to 10% of their annual revenue or even suspension from operating in the UK.

But, as with many things with this government, the wait for actual action continues.