UK Minister outlines gambling regulation plans

1 May 2014

Helen Grant, the UK Minister for Sport, Tourism and Equalities, has announced plans to introduce a number of changes to UK gambling regulations.

As reported by iGaming Business, the government has already unveiled plans to hand local councils more power to decide whether more betting shops should open in their constituencies in order to combat ‘clustering’ of such outlets.

Under current regulations, planning applications are not always required for new betting shops to open as bookmakers can move into premises left empty by business under the same category, such as banks and estate agents.

The government is proposing a re-emphasis within the current planning classes, with betting shops being placed in a new category that would require a planning application.

In addition, the government will also remove the ability for other premises such as restaurants and pubs to change use without being obliged to seek planning permission.

The Department for Communities and Local Government will now consult on the proposals as part of a wider consultation on change of use this summer.

Grant also said she was keen to address concerns over fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which have drawn criticism from all quarters due to the amount that is being spent on them.

While the tax rate on FOBTs was recently increased, Grant is of the opinion that more must be done to actually protect players.

Referring to category B2 gaming machines, Grant said: “I have therefore decided that Government should adopt a precautionary approach and take targeted and proportionate action to protect players further when using high stake gaming machines on the high street.”

Grant has proposed that customers placing stakes of more than £50 use account-based play or load cash over the counter.

“This is a sensible and balanced approach which allows players continued use of these machines on the high street, while ensuring greater opportunities for supervision and player protection,” Grant said.

The UK Gambling Commission will also undertake a review of its licence conditions and codes of practice with a view to boosting player protection measures.

Grant said the regulator intends to consult on requiring FOBTs to present players with a choice to set limits on the maximum amount of time or money they want to spend before starting to play.

The Gambling Commission will also look at additional measure to protect players on FOBTS, such as enforcing pauses in play and making messaging tougher and mandatory.

“The government will now prepare the necessary impact assessments and regulatory measures to implement its proposed changes,” Grant said. “I expect these changes to be implemented from October 2014.”

Despite Grant having said that the changes will help protect players, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling has hit out at the proposals, branding them as a “missed opportunity” to take stronger action on FOBTs.

The lobby group previously issued calls for the maximum stake on FOBTs to be reduced to £2 and has criticised the government for not acting on this.

A spokesperson for the group said: “The Department for Culture, Media and Sport announcement shows that the Government has recognised that there is a problem, but these small steps show out of touch they are with the voting public and does not mitigate the harm caused by FOBTs.

“It appears the government has changed as little as possible in order to try and get the issue off the agenda.”

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling also hit out at betting shop plans, stating that bookmakers could simply appeal any planning permission refusal to overturn the decision.

Elsewhere, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), which previously criticised the government for increasing tax rates on FOBTs, was also unhappy with the new measures.

The ABB previously said introducing harsher measures could have a negative impact on the UK gambling industry and could lead to the closure of 7,800 betting shops and the loss of 39,000 jobs.

ABB chief executive Dirk Vennix said: “The proposed changes to the way customers are able to stake more than £50 will impose extra costs on the industry whilst there is no evidence to show that restricting stakes will do anything to minimise problem gambling.

“Limiting access to one product just means the vast majority of responsible gamblers will be inconvenienced and problem gamblers will gamble on other products.

“We also want to working constructively with the Government and Gambling Commission to keep problem gambling at the record low levels because we share the same objective – that one problem gambler is one too many.

“The industry’s new Code of Conduct for Player Protection has already had a significant impact with breaks in play, increased customer interaction and more self-exclusions.”

Related articles: Government grants local councils more betting shop powers

UK Budget 2014: bingo, FOBTs, point of consumption tax

UK gamblers to set own limits on FOBTs under new code