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UK tightens gambling laws aligning with smartphone era

Britain on Thursday set out long-awaited plans to crack down on the problem gambling, as it seeks to bring regulations up to date with a rise in betting online and on smartphones.

The proposals would see new online stake limits of between GBP 2 pounds (USD 2.49) and 15 pounds, increased affordability checks on customers and a new statutory levy on betting firms to fund research, education and treatment for problem gamblers.

“A flutter is one thing, unchecked addiction is another; so today we are bringing our pre-smartphone regulations into the present day with a gambling White Paper (policy document) for the digital age,” Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, told parliament.

The government said it would consult on the size of the levy and how it will be structured.

"It is our responsibility to make sure our rules and regulations keep up with the real world so we can protect the most vulnerable"@lucyfrazermp gives a statement to the House on the long-awaited gambling white paper 🎰

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— (@Politics_co_uk) April 27, 2023

The reforms would give extra powers to gambling regulators to take down illegal betting sites and tackle unauthorised operators. They will also look to bring in restrictions on bonus offers, such as free bets and spins, and introduce greater protections for those aged under 25.

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Campaign group Charity Gambling with Lives, which supports families bereaved by gambling-related suicide, welcomed the changes but said they did not go far enough.

They had called for an end to all gambling advertising and affordability checks at 100 pounds of monthly losses.

The government has proposed the most detailed checks would kick in at a GBP 1,000 net loss within 24 hours or GBP 2,000 within 90 days.

“We’ve won concessions on some of the key areas but so much more needs to happen to reduce the horrendous harm caused by one of the most loosely regulated gambling industries in the world,” said Gambling with Lives co-founder Liz Ritchie, who lost her son Jack to gambling-related suicide.

Changing habits

The changes mark the biggest overhaul to the GBP 14 billion industry since the 2005 Gambling Act. Habits have changed significantly since then, with an exponential rise in online betting.

COVID-19 lockdowns turbocharged that shift, with gambling companies, including the owner of Ladbrokes and Coral brands, Entain, and the Dublin-based company behind Paddy Power and Betfair, Flutter Entertainment, achieving sharply higher profits.

Entain and Flutter, two of the world’s largest gambling companies, both welcomed the proposals and said they would review the details.

The government said it would also support the more traditional ‘land-based’ gambling sector such as casinos and arcades, easing what it described as “overly restrictive” rules to allow them to have more gaming machines.

Gambling minister Stuart Andrew said the government planned to have the changes in place by summer next year, but the opposition Labour Party urged the government to legislate before parliament begins its summer break in July.

The government says there are around 300,000 problem gamblers in Britain but campaign groups estimate as many as 1.4 million people are addicted to gambling, with 500 in England alone taking their own lives each year due to gambling.

Problematic practises in the gambling industry have forced the regulator, the Gambling Commission, to issue several large fines including a record GBP 19.2 million fine to the William Hill group, which is owned by online gaming company 888 888.

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