The Government has announced that it is going to review the Gambling Act 2005 early next year, following calls to ensure it’s fit for the digital age.

The Act covers a wide range of policies, with regulations on casinos, gaming machines, advertising and more, but understandably fails to factor in the technological advances that have taken place in the last decade. In 2005 no one could predict the prevalence of social media and smartphones, which today allows people to gamble 24/7 if they so desired.

Current gambling legislation is centred around allowing people to spend their money how they choose whilst also ensuring that vulnerable people are not exploited. The Act’s original aim in 2005 was to protect children and vulnerable people in a fair and open gambling economy that is free of crime. This review will give the Government the opportunity to assess legislation and consider improvements.

Over the last 15 years there has been progress on a number of objectives, including cutting the maximum stakes of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to £2, tightening rules on the age and identity checks, banning using credit cards for gambling, and mandatory use of GAMSTOP (an online self-exclusion scheme) for all online operators. A number of new measures are in progress, such as interventions and affordability checks in order to protect customers, a fees uplift to reflect the complexity of the industry, new restrictions on VIP schemes, new protections for online slots game design, as well as further healthcare provisions for those with gambling addiction.

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The Evangelical Alliance has engaged with gambling legislation and policy since before the 2005 Act and was part of a wide-ranging effort to ensure that the super casinos proposed and permitted in the original law were never introduced. The Evangelical Alliance has consistently pressured the Government to maintain its commitment to the most vulnerable and has emphasised that gambling should not be treated as just another leisure activity’. In 2011, in evidence to a parliamentary committee reviewing the Act, the Evangelical Alliance called for a number of changes, including the removal of FOBTs and an increase to the minimum age for the National Lottery to 18, a proposal the Government will address in this current review.

The Government is calling for evidence on a number of areas including:

Online protections – players and products

The responsibility of player protection currently lies with gambling companies as conditions of their operating licences. Theoretically, operators should monitor a player’s behaviour and intervene if there are signs of problem gambling. This can be difficult with land-based sites, such as casinos and betting shops, as there generally needs to be an existing relationship between players and staff in order for them to intervene.

With online gambling, operators can comprehensively monitor a person’s play. They should make it easy to set limits and stop players if they have chosen to self-exclude. The Gambling Commission is calling for evidence on how affordability checks at certain predetermined thresholds might add to protections for online gamblers. Even though online gambling operators should be able to better monitor players, a significant number of players are still losing large sums of money in spite of technology.

Advertising, sponsorship and branding

UK Advertising Codes emphasise that under-18s and vulnerable people should be protected by limiting their exposure and not promoting irresponsible messages to them through gambling advertising.

There have been exemptions from these rules for sports teams and events, and currently sporting bodies have responsibility for their fans. However, the correlation between sports and gambling is leading to greater concern, which the Government wants to address.

The Gambling Commission’s powers and resources

The Gambling Commission is funded through licence fees paid by the gambling industry. It has broad powers to tackle risks that could arise through licence conditions on operators without the Government having to intervene through Parliament. The Gambling Commission needs to have adequate powers to regulate a constantly evolving gambling industry. There is a call for evidence about the effectiveness of the Gambling Commission, as weaknesses could manifest in things like a black market for gambling.

Consumer redress

In cases where consumers have failed to be protected by gambling operators, there is supposed to be compensation or redress for the consumer; however, this is often not the case. Many complaints have been made to the Gambling Commission, which does not have the power to redress consumers.

Generally, modes of consumer redress are insufficient, time-consuming and costly, so the Government is calling for evidence around the current means of redress and any possible alternatives.

Age limits and verification

At 18, people gain full citizenship rights and responsibilities and can take part in activities that could potentially lead to harm, such as drinking and smoking. Gambling is widely being

considered in this category, which is why the minimum age to participate in the National Lottery is being raised to 18. Since this change is being made, the Government is now reviewing the minimum age for participating in society lotteries. These lotteries are much smaller, in order to remain distinct from the National Lottery, and are for the benefit of non-commercial organisations such as charities, sports or culture clubs.

The Government is also looking into further protection for people who have just become of age and is calling for evidence on whether protections are required for under-25s.

Land-based gambling

Even in a digital age, land-based gambling is still a significant part of the UK tourism industry. It is one of the few industries where cashless payments are limited. The Government is calling for evidence as to whether this prevents harm, limits customer choice or makes land-based gambling unviable against online gambling.

The full scope of the review is on the Government website. If you would like to submit evidence to any of the questions, you can find out how to respond on the call to evidence webpage. The Evangelical Alliance will be responding to the review in full and more information about key points you may wish to make will be available in the new year.