By the time you read this, the industry may be in possession of the UK’s long-awaited gambling-reform White Paper.
At the end of last week, iGaming Business reported that it had received tipoffs from “a number of industry sources” teeing up publication of the now almost mythical government proposals for this Monday 17 April. Monday came and went and we’re yet to see the document.
The UK’s legacy Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which barely knows its own identity after having been recently replaced by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is giving nothing away.
However, the announcement on 13 April that the English Premier League (EPL) will gradually withdraw gambling sponsorship from the front of their matchday shirts hinted at some movement in the gambling-reform process.
An EPL statement said: “The announcement follows an extensive consultation involving the League, its clubs, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as part of the government’s ongoing review of current gambling legislation. The Premier League is also working with other sports on the development of a new code for responsible-gambling sponsorship.”
The transition away from shirt-front gambling sponsorship will not begin until the end of the 2025/26 season and teams will still be able to feature gambling sponsorship on other parts of the kit and in stadiums. So for some campaigners, this is unlikely to be an entirely satisfactory outcome.
That said, it does point to a legislative and cultural direction where gambling is concerned in the UK.
Gambling sponsorship is worth an estimated £60m per year for the eight top-flight clubs that feature gambling companies on the front of their shirts. While they can afford to take the hit, less-well-funded leagues cannot.
The Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) has already said it will not follow the EPL’s example. “For many SPFL clubs, sponsorship from gambling companies is a significant source of income which helps to support their business models and enables investment in many of the important community activities which clubs undertake,” a spokesperson said last week.
Three Scottish Premiership clubs have gambling sponsors. Celtic features Dafabet on its shirts, Rangers has 32Red and Unibet, and Dundee United is sponsored by QuinnCasino.
Meanwhile, speculation as to when the UK government will lay its cards on the table regarding the future of gambling regulation remains rife. The Times newspaper also reported that the paper was expected on 17 April, as did industry newsletter Compliance+More.
While the White Paper’s release will be a relief to the industry and campaigners, who have now been waiting since the review kicked off in December 2020, it is unlikely to resolve all the tensions it has thrown up over the last several years.
For one, many believe the length of the process itself renders the findings on which the White Paper’s proposals are based outdated. Moreover, whatever proposals are made will require further consultation and debate before they can be enacted, meaning the publication itself is far from the end of the road for regulatory reform in the UK.
Leaks regarding the timing and content of the White Paper may also be down to the recent news that Conservative Member of Parliament Scott Benton had been merrily lobbying gambling ministers on behalf of gambling-industry stakeholders for money.
In February Benton addressed ICE London with an impassioned case against affordability checks, which are expected to feature heavily in the White Paper.
“The government talks about frictionless checks, non-intrusive checks, and allowing the industry to largely continue, whilst clamping down on the problems we have in that fraction of 1% of people who have a gaming problem. The issue is, how is that actually going to work?”, he said, claiming banks weren’t ready to meet the requirements of such checks.
Benton represents Blackpool South, the UK constituency with among the greatest number of workers employed in the gambling and gaming industry. It felt clear at the time he was moved, at the very least by a financial imperative among his constituents, although it was less clear he was also happy to accept backhanders for himself.
Earlier this month, Benton was stripped of the party whip after an undercover investigation by The Times caught him on film telling a mock investment fund that he could leak the White Paper and ask parliamentary questions on its behalf, in clear breach of parliamentary rules.
With all this rumbling away in the background of the almost comically hyped White Paper, it is hard to pinpoint with any accuracy when it will actually land, what it will contain, or how it will be received, but it’s clear that for the regulation of the industry to change in any meaningful way, the next stage of the process must proceed far more quickly and orderly.
Stakeholders on every side of the gambling-reform debate have all waited long enough.