For well over a decade, the UK has been considered to be leading the way on gambling regulation, with a mature, legal framework for legitimate licensed operators. But that could all be about to change, amidst shifting political priorities in the official opposition Labour Party.
The Labour Party is preparing to commit to a new structure of regulation for gambling in the UK which would seek to be far more restrictive than the current regime. The new proposals are expected to extend to both bookmakers and casinos, ostensibly in a bid to reduce the ‘harms’ of gambling.
Of course, for the vast, overwhelming majority of gamblers, these problems are a fiction. Rather, online gambling is a freedom large numbers of people in the UK and beyond choose to engage in, for a whole variety of reasons including entertainment and excitement.
Yet the Labour Party proposals, championed by deputy leader Tom Watson, set out to overhaul the existing gambling legislation, which they describe as “unfit” for the digital age.
The proposals will look to cap the maximum frequency and amount that can be bet online, which would seek to bring limits in line with new FOBT maximums to the online sphere. They also contain plans for verifying punters are playing with personal money rather than credit, including banning credit cards and other forms of borrowing-funded gambling.
It is interesting to note that the last major change in UK gambling law, a comprehensive relaxing of restrictions and laws around gambling freedoms, was introduced by the then-Labour government, highlighting an inconsistency with current policy. This is reflective of the Labour Party’s move to the far left of the political spectrum.
However, even the governing Conservatives have been adopting a more restrictive view of gambling in recent years. The introduction of FOBT limits way harsher than the levels recommended by the Gambling Commission one of the most notable examples – a measure introduced despite the link to potentially tens of thousands of job losses from the gambling sector.
The Remote Gambling Association criticised the Labour proposals, and said they run the risk of pushing gamblers out the the legitimate UK sector and into the hands of unregulated international operators.
“The online environment has the huge advantage of providing a complete overview of player spending patterns and behaviours, using this information can prove to be a more effective and more sophisticated way to tackle problem gambling and thereby avoid arbitrary limits that risk driving customers to the unregulated and illegal gambling market.”
Leaving aside the hypocrisy of these measures being proposed by the Labour party, support from the traditionally pro-business, pro-individual Conservative party means that whichever way the wind blows, conditions are expected to tighten for operators in the UK.
This is a dangerous game for UK authorities to be playing, particularly given the sizeable gambling industries currently contributing substantial employment and tax revenue to the UK economy. Even on an individual level, telling the vast majority of gamblers how they can and should gamble with the sledgehammer of legislation feels very unfair, and will likely carry an electoral penalty.
This creates the absurd situation where politicians are making political capital out from one segment of society by legislating away another, given that most of those who currently regularly gamble online will likely be opposed to such tight restrictions.
While politicians will naturally try to find any angle they can to win votes, when it comes to the merits of these proposals, the jury is out.