What are the Implications of the 2023 UK Gambling Whitepaper?

UK Gambling Commission

After a wait of almost three years and government personnel changes, the gambling whitepaper recommendations have finally been released.

After consultations between government ministers, the Gambling Commission, various charities and leading bookmakers, an industry held its breath as the realities of these potential changes came to light. 

Given that we’ve waited 15 years since the last gambling review, plenty has changed when it comes to mobile-based applications and the simple act of placing a bet. 

Many gambling welfare charities will argue that the changes haven’t gone far enough, while several bookmakers will counter that with claims that this will impact the whole betting industry rather than address points of contention in a targeted way. 

What the changes mean for customers and operators

The government, in line with support from the Gambling Commission, announced that those losing over £1,000 a day, or over £2,000 every 90 days, will face strict security and financial checks in order to continue betting. 

Punters losing £125 a day will face softer checks. Wagering amounts for online slot machines, the topic of much debate in recent years, will be reduced to between £2 and £15, with the lower amount likely to be the maximum stake for those under the age of 25. 

The UK betting industry looks set to lose out on revenue, that is one thing that can’t be argued. Government forecasts indicate that an 8-14% looks possible. It doesn’t take Isaac Newton to work out that an astronomical fee will be wiped from the gambling market. 

Many involved in professional sports betting have argued that their activity shouldn’t be impacted by a minority, although others have welcomed the changes.

Flutter chief executive Peter Jackson is quoted by iNTERGAME as saying:

"We believe proactive change will lead to a better future for our industry and have introduced industry-leading safer gambling controls via our Play Well strategy over the last few years, including setting mandatory deposit limits for customers under 25, reducing online slots staking limits and making material investments in our safer gambling operational capabilities."

Meanwhile, Grosvenor Casinos and Mecca Bingo owner Rank Group believe the changes will lead to a net positive impact due to the changes levelling the playing field for land-based establishments compared to their digital counterparts. John O'Reilly, the group's chief executive, said:

"Whilst our UK digital business will be impacted by a tightening of regulation, our land-based operations will benefit from the proposed regulatory changes and, in net terms, the group will benefit."

In some quarters, authorities have faced criticism over claims of infringement, with many arguing that gambling is being made an example of compared to other industries, where huge sums of money can be spent in just a matter of minutes, either for recreational or professional purposes.  

Will investors start to look elsewhere?

Given the current rise of betting across the Atlantic into the US and Canada, will more operators look to pitch up there and aim for success? 

It’s certainly hard to argue against. As of March 2023, 33 US states had legalised gambling, with 24 of those now allowing online betting. 

Those numbers are only expected to grow over the coming years, and perhaps some operators will be tempted to further bolster their resources. Monthly online wagering revenue regularly exceeds $140 million in New York, according to these statistics from Sports Handle

What does this mean for the future of iGaming? 

Given that the current changes are recommended, and will need to be passed through the government, it’s difficult to make firm estimates at this stage. 

It wouldn’t be hugely surprising to see iGaming operators turn their backs on the British gambling market, temporarily at least. 

That being said, given the long delay to the white paper actually being released, and the potential for a new government in 2025, it’s tough to predict firstly when the changes will come to pass, and secondly how far the changes could go if a new party did come to power in less than two years time.

The US and Ontario markets look appealing on paper, although there is currently incredibly high demand between operators. Gaining a license to operate in new states quickly can also prove troublesome unless holding deep pockets. 

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