In case you missed it, last week the UK government published its long-awaited White Paper on gambling, trailed as being the biggest changes to gambling law in Great Britain for nearly 20 years.
Since the review of gambling laws was first announced in 2020, the White Paper has been delayed at least four times, and seen four Culture Secretaries. But it is finally here and its key focus will be to reform online betting in the age of the smartphone.
The proposals are as follows:
Statutory gambling operator levy
The government plans to consult on a statutory gambling operator levy. It will replace the current voluntary levy - the NHS and many researchers do not take funds from the voluntary levy due to their concerns over the source of funding. The new levy's proceeds will be ring-fenced for funding for research, education and treatment, including through the NHS. It will be collected by the Gambling Commission and spending will be approved by the UK government. The consultation will take into account factors such as business size, operating costs and problem gambling rates.
New online stake limit
A new stake limit for online slots will be introduced with the default maximum stake of between £2 and £15 per spin, again subject to consultation. Currently, there is no limit on bets for online slots whereas in-person slot machines in pubs, arcades, bookmakers have a limit of £2 and casinos have limits of up to £5. As young people can be particularly vulnerable to gambling harms, there will be a further consultation on options for specific protections for under 25s, including a lower stake limit or other controls.
Player protection checks
Betting companies will be required to player protection checks on the highest spending gamblers to check they’re not incurring harmful losses.
New powers for the Gambling Commission
New powers will be given to the Gambling Commission to tackle and block unlicensed black market gambling firms from operating in the UK. It will do so through court orders and work with ISPs. The government says that illegal operators often try to subvert the system, including on player protection requirements, and so it hopes that this will strengthen the regulatory environment protecting those most at risk of harm.
The White Paper also proposes reforming the fee structure for the Gambling Commission to give it greater flexibility to respond to any emerging risks and challenges posed by the industry.
Restricting bonus offers
Bonus offers, such as free bets or spins, can drive harmful behaviour and trigger people to spend more than they intended. The Gambling Commission will take a closer look at how bonuses are constructed and targeted to prevent them being used in harmful ways and its work will inform new rules to stop dangerous practices.
There will be a review into the current horserace betting levy to make certain racing continues to be appropriately funded for the future.
The White Paper also includes proposals to:
- Remove loopholes to prevent under-18s from accessing any form of online gambling, cash prize fruit machines or widely accessible scratchcards;
- Review the fees which local authorities can charge for premise licences and create new powers for local leaders to conduct impact assessments when considering new applications.
- Review of online game design rules to look at limiting speed of play and other characteristics which exacerbate risks.
Advertising and sponsorship
Significantly, the White Paper does not include proposed legal provisions on advertising or sponsorship. It follows the Premier League’s voluntary decision to ban gambling advertising from the front of clubs’ shirts from the end of the 2025/2026 season. It does include proposals for all major sports governing bodies to sign up to a cross-sport Code of Practice on gambling sponsorship. It will be designed to improve standards where gambling sponsorship is prevalent in sport similar to what is in place in the alcohol industry. In addition, the government says that it wants customers to have greater control over the types of marketing they receive, such as opting-in for online bonuses and offers for different types of gambling products. The Commission will consult on introducing such controls. The Online Advertising Programme will explore further mechanisms to reduce harm from advertising across all sectors.
The government also says that certain types of competitions and prize draws which offer significant prizes such as a luxury home or car now operate online in ways which could not have been foreseen in 2005. It intends to explore the potential for regulating competitions of this type to introduce appropriate controls around player protection and, where applicable, returns to good causes.
The Betting and Gaming Council says it wants to see balanced, proportionate and effective reforms, while not spoiling the enjoyment of those who bet safely and responsibly. They say around 22.5 million people bet each month in Britain.
After already waiting a long time for this White Paper, it seems that there will be further delay due to the planned consultations, so it is unlikely that we will see change for some time.
Lucy Frazer, Culture Secretary: Policymakers responsible for our gambling regulations — namely the Gambling Act of 2005 — could never have foreseen how gambling would evolve with the proliferation of the smartphone. Today we need gambling regulations for the digital age — and today we are going to bring them forward.