APPG chair calls for Gambling Commission reform

9 January 2020

Carolyn Harris MP, chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Gambling Related Harm, has renewed calls for the reform of the GB Gambling Commission and the 2005 Gambling Act in order to better help protect vulnerable people.

Speaking in parliament today (9 January), Harris put forward an urgent question over an ongoing dispute related to the English Football Association (FA) selling media rights for betting purposes.

Bet365 streamed 23 games in the third round of the FA Cup last weekend, with customers only able to view the games if they placed a bet or deposited funds. This was possible via a deal between the FA and the IMG agency which, signed in 2017, permits IMG to sell rights for footage or clips of matches to bookmakers.

However, the FA has drawn criticism over this arrangement, with some flagging that the FA in June 2017 announced it was to distance itself from commercial partnerships with the gambling industry. The FA said it will review its processes over future deals.

Harris criticised the streaming deal and urged the government to take stronger action against the FA’s approach.

“Everything about the deal is shameful, everything about it needs to be dealt with and everything about the Gambling Act 2005 needs reform,” Harris said. “The Gambling Commission certainly needs reform. 

“I thank the Prime Minister for his comments, but I urge the government to do more to protect vulnerable people.”

In response, Sports Minister Nigel Adams said while it is right that sporting organisations should be able to benefit commercially from their products and negotiate their own broadcast deals, they have a “responsibility to ensure fans are protected from problem gambling”.

Adams said: “I have spoken at some length to the FA since this broke. The arrangement has been in place for some time; the 2017 contract was a rollover of a deal. The government have asked the FA to look at all avenues to review this element of its broadcasting agreement.

“This element of the broadcast arrangement is for matches that are not chosen for the FA Cup online broadcast or do not kick off at 3 pm on a Saturday, and it does open up the opportunity for plenty of other games to be watched, but we have asked the FA in no uncertain terms to look at the deal and to see what opportunities there are to rescind this particular element. I will be meeting face to face with the FA next week.”

Tracey Crouch, who resigned from her previous Ministerial role in November 2018 over a proposed delay to regulations surrounding fixed-odds betting terminals, also called for the government to be stronger in its approach to the matter.

Crouch said: “I encourage the Minister not to listen too closely to the FA’s defence on the issue and claims that any renegotiation of the deal will have an impact on grassroots sport. That is something that the FA has regularly claimed in the past, but it is important that it reviews the deal now, to protect people involved in football.”

Harris' call for the gambling commission and gambling regulatory reform, was first put forward as part of the APPG's interim report on the UK online gambling sector in November last year. This saw the group demand a £2 stake limit for online casino games, to bring it in line with the FOBT stake cut.

Meanwhile, the Betting and Gaming Council, the trade association for the UK gambling industry, has issued a statement on the matter, saying its members did not seek exclusivity for the rights to screen FA Cup games.

BGC chair Brigid Simmonds said member operators bet365, GVC, Flutter, William Hill and Kindred are happy for IMG to offer the rights to other parties so that the games can be viewed for free elsewhere.

Simmonds said: “Our members are happy for IMG to offer the rights to screen these games to the Football Association or another appropriate body so that the games can be viewed for free by the public with immediate effect.”