UK Gambling Reforms Delayed Until May Amid Boris Johnson ‘Partygate’ Chaos

Posted on: February 7, 2022, 06:46h. 

Last updated on: February 7, 2022, 01:23h.

The UK betting industry has been bracing itself for the publication of draft government gambling reforms that could dramatically impact future growth. But it will have to remain in brace position a little longer, according to government sources who spoke to The Guardian Sunday.

UK gambling
Boris Johnson, the UK’s gaffe-prone prime minister, is in turmoil over “Partygate.” That could further delay the publication of a white paper on gambling reforms. (Image: The Scotsman)

A white paper that could outline a widespread tightening of regulatory controls will not appear until May at the earliest, the sources said.

Its publication was initially expected at the end of last year, but was delayed following the appointment of a new gambling minister, Chris Philp. Recently, industry watchers have been expecting it to arrive imminently.

Among the measures on the table are a blanket ban on advertising around sports, and “affordability checks” for gamblers who lose a certain amount within a certain time frame. Operators’ customer retention strategies, including “free bets” and bonuses, are also under the microscope.

‘Unfit for Purpose’

The UK’s ruling Conservative Party had promised to reform the Tony Blair-era UK Gambling Act (2005) as part of its reelection manifesto, saying it was no longer fit for purpose in the digital age.

The act liberalized online gambling, launching one of the most permissive regulatory frameworks in the world. But this was still two years before the introduction of the iPhone.

The subsequent rise of mobile betting technology, much of it pioneered under the UK’s liberal regime, has sparked widespread anxiety about problem gambling and associated social costs.

But now, Labour MP Carolyn Harris is concerned that Prime Minster Boris Johnson’s calamitous position could delay further delay the process.

“Every day of delay leads to further gambling-related harm while the industry rakes in profits,” she told The Guardian. “The government must not let its own internal problems stand in the way of much-needed reforms for this country – it is time for action.”

Party Pooper

Johnson’s grip on power is becoming increasingly tenuous. His administration has been rocked by revelations of illegal parties held at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s London address, in May and December 2020. At the time, the UK was enduring a strict lockdown to counter the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent weeks, four of the prime minister’s senior aides resigned in response to the scandal, while members of his own party have called for him to go.

In 2020, The Guardian reported that Johnson had a “growing appetite” for “sweeping reforms” of the gambling industry, and was taking a personal interest in the forthcoming review.

Johnson is tenacious and is unlikely to resign. But a vote of no confidence in the prime minister could materialize as soon as next week. This would result in a leadership challenge that would almost certainly further disrupt the gambling review.