The General Election: A New Road for UK Gambling Reform

The UK general election will take place on 4th July and the polls are currently pointing towards the Labour party establishing a majority government. Here, we examine what a Labour government might mean for gambling regulation in the UK and how this could impact the reform which has been taking place since the publication of the Gambling White Paper in April 2023.

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Recap

After months of delay, the Gambling White Paper was published in April 2023, setting out the current government’s plans for modernising British gambling regulation. The Gambling White Paper was a huge package of reform suggestions, which have since been subject to various instances of consultation by the government and the Gambling Commission. Whilst concrete legislative reform has not yet occurred, timelines have been set in a wide range of areas, including the introduction of light touch ‘vulnerability checks’ from August 2024 and stake limits for online slots from September 2024. However, as the introduction of these stake limits requires secondary legislation, it is now uncertain how a change of government will impact this timeline. Although these are significant changes in the UK regulatory regime, the huge overhaul of the Gambling Act 2005 (the Act) that the Gambling White Paper sought to achieve has not yet occurred. As such, if a Labour government is elected next month then they will take the reins on reforming the Act from their Conservative predecessors. As the Labour government would not be bound to follow the same path to reform, the approach that Labour takes to gambling reform is attracting significant interest across industry commentors.

The Labour Party Manifesto

The Labour Party Manifesto (the Manifesto) was published very recently, in advance of the election. The Manifesto set out several commitments Labour has made should it be elected, and one area addressed was the issue of gambling.

The Manifesto stated that Labour is committed to “reducing gambling-related harm”, stating that the party will “reform gambling regulation” by “strengthening protections” and working with those in the industry to “ensure responsible gambling”.

It is clear from these commitments that gambling reform will have a place in the Labour policy package should the party win the general election. However, whilst the commitments have been welcomed by the Betting and Gaming Council, the statements in the Manifesto are extremely vague and are dealt with only briefly. This means that, as we approach the general election, it is not clear how Labour will tackle gambling reform as no concrete policy proposals have been made in the Manifesto with respect to the gambling industry.

What we do know and next steps

The lack of clarity given in the Manifesto means that we will have to wait until after the general election to understand how Labour, if elected, will reform gambling regulation in the UK. However, some industry commentators have emphasised the fact that the commitments made were in the ‘public health’ section of the manifesto. This may be indicative of Labour’s tougher stance on gambling, seeing it as an issue which must be tackled to create social justice in the UK. Should Labour adopt this stance, this may entail more onerous protections being enforced to protect consumers, increasing the burdens on operators as a result.

Although there may be some delay in reform, given that the minor reference in the Manifesto to gambling indicates that this will not be an area of priority for Labour, it is clear is that Labour will be looking to continue the work of its predecessors and advance the proposals of gambling reform that were put forward in the Gambling White Paper.

Whilst a gambling bill was not in motion, and many of the proposed measures can be (and will still be) implemented by the Gambling Commission without legislation, meaning the White Paper is not in the ashes like many of the bills which failed to receive royal assent by the end of the parliamentary wash-up, it will be interesting to see how long it would take a new government to engage with gambling reform once elected. Moreover, it will be interesting to see if Labour approaches it with an emphasis on more ardent restrictions than those proposed by the Conservative government.

We will continue to report on the progress of gambling reform in the UK in the coming weeks and months.

Callum is an Associate in our Commercial Department, based in London. Callum advises clients across the gambling, sports, media and entertainment sectors on regulatory, transactional and commercial matters.
Elizabeth is a Partner in our Commercial Department and a member of our Media, Entertainment & Sport Group, based in London. Elizabeth concentrates her practice on the gambling and sports sectors, and has particular experience advising on online gambling regulation and a broad range of commercial gambling and sports matters.

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