UK’s Gambling Commission Lambasted by MPs

Multiple MPs from the all-party parliamentary group have recently published a new report that holds the United Kingdom Gambling Commission in a critical view for attempting to thwart gambling addiction. The report tries to push other ministers to take these matters into special measures instead. The UKGC themselves were not very receptive of the report and proponents of gambling regulatory reform called the report “ludicrous”.

In light of the publication of this controversial report, MP Conor McGinn (the vice chair of the party) made it official that he had actually withdrawn from the party and the reason for his withdrawal was the indeed the report and that he wanted nothing to do with it. In recent times, the all-party parliamentary group, amongst hoards of other such groups, has come under the scanner for its purported affiliations with lobbying.  Supposedly, many of the members within the group are known to have accepted thousands of pounds worth of perks from gambling operator companies in exchange for pushing for pro-gambling measures. The group took on an investigation of the United Kingdom Gambling Commission starting in 2021 and denied to share its findings until recently.

The arbitration is happening just a bit before the government is scheduled to announce its findings from a review of gambling laws. It is thought that the commission is playing a pivotal role in wrapping up bids.

Among some of the criticisms of the UKGC outlined in the report are suggestions that the UKGC was too strict and their conservative approach may obliterate one of the best gambling markets in the world. The report claims that expeditious change is required and failure to change may lead to further growth within the online gambling grey market sector. The report blames the gambling regulator in the country for taking measures beyond their power in implementing highly restrictive strategies geared towards the reduction in the number of problem gamblers.

Additionally, even though the general consensus across the country is one of worry amidst exploding gambling addiction rates, the party accuses the commission of adopting a bully like attitude which results in mental harm and it tries to persuade the government to consider special measures in figuring out whether the stance of the UKGC can continue as is.

An Expose of APPG Members Accepting Gifts from Gambling Operators

A concerning number of the party members have shielded against complaints of accepting incentives from parties in the gambling sector. These same MPs are known for being mouthy proponents for more liberal regulation to allow the gambling sector to grow unhindered and have expressed their ideas in both the media as well as within the parliament. Some examples of prominent group members that have accepted free gifts from the gambling sector include:

Last July, the committee’s head, Conservative MP Scott Benton, collected £7,494.60 in tickets from Ladbrokes owner Entain, online gaming business Gamesys, and the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), an industry advocacy group, for Euro 2020 and Ascot.

Days out at Lord’s and Euro 2020 for Labour MP John Spellar were valued £2,835.80, thanks to Paddy Power owner Flutter and the BGC.

Conservative MP Aaron Bell, who used to work for Bet365, accepted tickets for £6,955.60 to three Euro 2020 games through Entain, Flutter, and Gamesys.

What the UKGC Has to Say

Some elements of the business will never be satisfied with a regulator that consistently pushes for safer gaming is along the lines of what a Gambling Commission representative stated. They said that the commission would require time to assess and make sense of the report. They added that the UKGC had not received any communication from the APPG prior to receiving the report, which was untimely and unexpected indeed. As the industry regulator, the UKGC spokesperson said, the UKGC expects any such findings to first be brought up with the commission in an official position and that the UKGC should be allowed to answer to concerns, correct misconceptions and discuss their regulatory strategy.

In a highly contrasting report published by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office prior to the APPG report, the UKGC had actually faced complaints that they were not stringent enough in their crackdown of gambling addiction and were encouraged to take more drastic measures in response to growing gambling addiction rates.

Matt Zarb-Cousin who leads a group called Clean Up Gambling expressed his shock over the APPG report and its timing. He said that it is inconceivable how some MPs had the nerve to publish such as ridiculous report when review and reform of existing gambling laws are on-going. He further added that online casino and sports betting operators should actually be happy that the market has grown exponentially under the regulatory eye of the UKGC. Matt-Zarb Cousin is of the view that what is actually required is a reform that empowers the UKGC to take more direct and consequential measures allowing a better overview of licensed operators and the implementation of hefty financial penalties when an operator fails to comply with regulatory requirements.

The new gambling regulatory reforms are much awaited. However, it is not clear exactly when they will be made official. Will the desperate attempts of gambling advocacy groups take any toll on the reforms? We will have to wait and see.

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