Labour to call for overhaul of UK igaming regulations

28 February 2019

The Labour Party is to demand mandatory limits on player spending, staking and speed of play for online gaming as part of a root-and-branch overhaul of igaming regulation in England, Scotland and Wales.

In a speech due to be delivered to an Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) policy seminar later today (February 28), the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson (pictured) is to set out how Labour plans to address problem gambling in power.

Most eye-catching is the call for limits on spending, staking and game speed, which would mark the first time such controls were legally mandated in the UK.

“We need to see a culture of limits introduced to internet gambling: a system of thresholds placed on the spend, stake and speed of online gambling that will give safeguards to consumers,” Watson said of the proposal. “Labour’s new policies announced today will provide a framework for both industry and the regulator to achieve that.”

In his speech, Watson will highlight what he sees as a regulatory imbalance between online and land-based gaming. This will centre on the fact that clear limits are in place for stakes, prizes and spin speeds for in-shop gaming machines, with cash deposits subject to fraud and money laundering checks.

Such controls do not exist online, which Watson will say has fuelled problem gambling and led to “serious abuses” by licensed operators. He will also urge the introduction of a series of online affordability checks, as part of enhanced due diligence carried out before a customer places a bet, to ensure they can afford to gamble.

Watson will pledge that a future Labour government would introduce of a new E Category to regulate igaming, bringing it into line with the category system for land-based gaming set out by the 2005 Gambling Act. Finally, he is to announce a “gamer’s consultation”, which will see him gather information and evidence on the relationship between gaming and gambling, with a focus on skins and loot boxes.

These measures are designed to be incorporated into legislation to replace the 2005 Act, which Watson will criticise as “analogue legislation not fit for the digital age”. He noted that the act was written so long ago that it has more mentions of the postal service than the internet.

As part of its commitment to improving protections for igaming customers, Labour has already pledged to prohibit the use of credit cards for gambling.

“Problem gambling is Britain’s hidden epidemic,” Watson, who has consistently called for stricter controls on gambling in the UK, said. “We should treat it as a public health emergency.
 
“Online gambling companies have a responsibility to protect their customers from placing bets that they cannot afford,” he continued. “But too often, these operators have either neglected the care of their customers or have been too slow in their due diligence.”
 
Conservative peer Lord Chadlington, the former chair of the charity Action on Addiction, is to respond to Watson’s speech by reiterating his claim that the 2005 Act is not fit for purpose, in a bid to highlight bipartisan support for changes.

iGaming operator body the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) welcomed Watson’s calls for stricter regulation.

“We fully embrace the need to move faster to tackle problem gambling through effective regulation based on innovation, evidence and customer data and we are committed to working with the Government and Opposition to achieve that goal,” the RGA said in a statement.
 
“We support moves towards affordability and targeted intervention to ensure that those at risk of harm are identified without restricting or penalising those who enjoy their play and gamble responsibly,” it continued.

However, the RGA also highlighted the fact that online operators were already ramping up consumer protection strategies. It noted that igaming was all account-based, ensuring that operators had a complete overview of player spending patterns and behaviour.

More effective use of this data, it said, could help create more sophisticated and effective ways to tackle problem gambling. It warned that the introduction of arbitrary limits could “risk driving customers to the unregulated and illegal gambling market”.

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