White paper policies are finally seeing the light of day. Could the UK general election threaten their progress?

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Standing in the pouring rain, behind his podium at Downing Street on 22 May, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a snap general election for 4 July.

The announcement caused immediate uproar across the UK. For the gambling industry specifically, questions arose about how this might affect the roll-out of the policies outlined in the Gambling Act review white paper, the long-awaited policy document that promised to bring the industry into the digital age.

Despite a number of tedious delays, since its publication in April 2023 there has been notable progress for its proposals.

on 22 may Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a snap general election

The GB Gambling Commission opened the first round of consultations in July 2023, targeting four of the most pressing proposals. These were affordability checks, online games design, improving consumer choice on direct marketing and strengthening age verification for land-based operations.

At the beginning of the month, the Commission released the next steps for these proposals. They will be introduced between August 2024 and February 2025. And last week, the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) published its consultation response for retail-centric measures, confirming that it would remove the current ban on gambling with debit cards.

The general consensus is that the Commission, DCMS and the UK government have made a reasonable amount of progress with the white paper proposals in the last 13 months. But with the ruckus of a snap general election looming, could the temperamental policy timeline be thrown off course?

Bacta throws weight behind land-based proposals

When the white paper was first published, John White, CEO of the British Amusement Catering Trade Association (Bacta) highlighted the removal of the 80/20 ratio as a standout feature.

This rule – included in DCMS’ consultation response last week – will allow casinos under the 1968 Act to raise their number of gaming machines to 80. But this is only if the premises meet the criteria for the sizing conditions of a small 2005 Act casino.

Last week, John Bollom, president of Bacta, urged his members to contact their local parliamentary candidates regarding land-based reforms.

“A snap general election was always the biggest risk to getting the gambling white paper reforms passed into law,” he said. “I am asking every Bacta member to contact their parliamentary candidates – especially the Labour party candidates – to encourage them to support the land-based gambling reforms.

“We will be issuing advice to members on how to do this in the coming days.”

He added that it is crucial that if Labour is ultimately voted into power, they continue the progress of implementing the land-based proposals and supporting “modernisation”.

John Bollom said a general election was “always the biggest risk” with getting the policies enacted

“It is imperative, if there is a change in government, that Labour finishes the job and supports modernisation of our sector to support both the high street and seaside towns,” Bollom continued.

“The reforms are so vital for our sector. I like to think they may have been delayed, not derailed. Our campaign continues.”

BGC looking forward to working with “whichever party wins”

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) extolled the white paper after it was released, calling it a “once in a generation moment for change”. At a committee session in July 2023, Michael Dugher, then-CEO of the BGC, asked MPs to consider the potential impact on the wider industry, as MPs kicked off a review of the white paper.

In a statement to iGB, a BGC spokesperson affirmed that the body will continue its work with the industry to enact white paper policies, despite the looming general election.

“The BGC and our members continue delivering on the measures outlined in the white paper, which was rightly called a once in a generation moment for change for the regulated betting and gaming sector,” said the spokesperson.

“While we await the outcome of the general election, the BGC will continue its mission to raise standards and looks forward to working with whichever party wins at the polls.”

Progress depends on how policies are implemented

It’s important to note that the Commission is not completely in charge of putting the white paper into action. As mentioned above, some policies fall under DCMS, while others will require thorough parliamentary discussion.

David Zeffman, partner at CMS law, says that any progress, or lack thereof, would likely not be affected by whoever is voted in at the general election.

The general elction is unlikely to have any real effect on the progress of the reforms, says David Zeffman

“In principle, there is not a huge amount of difference between the Conservative and Labour parties’ policies on gambling which ought to mean that there should not be a material impact on the white paper’s policies,” he says.

“However, it depends on how the particular policy needs to be implemented. Where implementation is in the control of the Gambling Commission – for example, through changes in the LCCP – then there is no reason why the policy outcome should be affected.”

Measures outside the Commission’s remit were already projected to take more time to implement, as they would need to be brought before parliament. So the announcement of a general election is unlikely to slow things down further, Zeffman continues.

“But where the policy outcome requires parliamentary time, either primary or secondary legislation, there is no guarantee that gambling will be high on the agenda of the next government,” he explains.

“A good example is the government’s recent consultation response on land-based gambling where the proposed reforms are very welcome for land-based operators but those reforms mainly require legislation and it is now not at all clear if or when that will happen.”

Land-based reforms most likely to be impacted

The general election could have “unpredictable consequences” on how the white paper is put into action, says Bahar Alaeddini

Bahar Alaeddini, partner at Harris Hagan, says the white paper was deliberately drafted so that minimal legislation would be required to implement it. Moreover, the most pressing issues – like affordability checks – don’t require any legislation.

“There is no reason why a new government, which is in broad agreement, should not continue to work through their implementation with the Gambling Commission,” Alaeddini proposes.

But even with these allowances, land-based reforms are most likely to be impacted by the general election, she says.

“Even that limited parliamentary time has proved insufficient and the reforms most immediately impacted by the general election will be the land-based liberalisations – casinos, gaming machine entitlements and cashless – online slot stake limits and the statutory levy,” she continues. “If elected, we understand Labour would be broadly supportive of the white paper reforms, but it will surely have bigger priorities.”

Elizabeth Dunn, partner at Bird & Bird’s, agrees that the Labour party will have more pressing priorities if voted into power.

“We are also unlikely to see a Labour government taking a more liberal position on gambling reform than the current government and so the changes to the land based sector could be at risk,” she says.

Which proposals will be prioritised?

While an all-out stoppage of white paper policy progress is improbable, the general election will have a lasting effect on how it plays out, Alaeddini continues.

“The white paper was a big moment in the evolution of this industry and, while the reset button has certainly not been pressed, the critical and delicate balance that it achieved, between consumer freedoms and choice on the one hand and protection from harm on the other, is at risk of disturbance or delay, with unpredictable consequences.”

Melanie Ellis believes the £5 stake limit for online slots and the statutory levy will take priority for the new government

The reforms that require legislation might not see progress until September, says Melanie Ellis, partner at Northridge Law. But with so long to wait, which of the proposals are likely to be prioritised?

“I anticipate the new government will want to proceed fairly quickly with the £5 stake limit for online slots, which only requires regulations to be presented to parliament to impose a new licence condition on operators, although the September implementation date will be pushed back,” Ellis suggests.

“I also expect the new government will want to press ahead with the statutory levy. This also can be implemented through secondary legislation, although in this case the structure of the levy needs to be finalised.”

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