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The long-awaited Gambling Act review white paper will be made available to the industry within a matter of weeks, according to the UK’s gambling minister. 

Paul Scully, whose official title is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), addressed BGC members at the trade association’s AGM on 26 January.

“As you all know, our Gambling Act review is a priority for the department, and our white paper will set out our vision for the sector in the coming weeks,” he told members.

He described the review as an opportunity to strike the right balance between consumer protection and the maintenance of a robust industry which makes a significant contribution to the economy.

The most widely discussed issue in relation to the Gambling Act review has been that of so-called “affordability checks,” though Scully was quick to clarify the terminology.

Paul Scully MP: “Let me be really clear here, it is not the role of government or the Gambling Commission to tell people how much of their salary they are ‘allowed to’ spend on gambling.”

“‘Affordability checks’ is the wrong title for the protections we’re envisaging,” he said. “That word suggests that the government or Gambling Commission are going to set rules on how much people can ‘afford’ to gamble.

“Let me be really clear here, it is not the role of government or the Gambling Commission to tell people how much of their salary they are ‘allowed to’ spend on gambling.”

He suggested a more appropriate name would be “financial risk” checks, which should be used to determine whether a higher than usual level of spend is an indicator of gambling harm.

The idea of using affordability checks for consumer protection is too limited, he argued, as they could only ever point to markers of financial harm specifically – while the risks associated with problematic gambling behaviour include several other kinds of harm.

Paul Scully MP: “I don’t think we would be providing better protections to consumers by moving to a black and white world where only financial indicators are considered.”

“I’ve heard from operators about the hundreds of markers of harm which are continuously monitored for every customer,” Scully said. “While we all know loss and debt is often a major harm for people who are in the grip of a gambling problem, it’s not the only element.

“I don’t think we would be providing better protections to consumers by moving to a black and white world where only financial indicators are considered. It is essential that operators use all the information they have on customers and their wider risk profile to inform the right interventions.”

The details and logistics of carrying out financial risk checks will be worked out in collaboration with the industry in the coming months, he said, with a view to introducing frictionless checks for customers while establishing the best possible framework for identifying and acting on financial risk.

“We want to make common sense changes to update the rules, preserving safeguards that do protect against gambling harm, but replacing unnecessarily restrictive controls with ones which make things better for customers and businesses,” Scully added.

Paul Scully MP: “The white paper is not the final word on gambling reform. It will be followed by consultations led by both DCMS and the Gambling Commission. I want the industry to stay engaged as policies are refined, finalised and implemented.”

Operators in the UK have suffered from the uncertainty around the Gambling Act review for some time now. Repeated delays to the publication of the review have left firms unsure of what they can and cannot do. 

Chief among them has been talk of the so-called affordability checks, while a £2 stake limit on online slots and the introduction of harder hitting mandatory safer gambling slogans have also been floated.

While the release of the white paper will offer some additional clarity to gambling operators and investors, Scully made clear in his address that it will not mark the end of the process of gambling reform.

“The white paper is not the final word on gambling reform,” he said. “It will be followed by consultations led by both DCMS and the Gambling Commission. I want the industry to stay engaged as policies are refined, finalised and implemented.”

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