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JACKPOT! Advertising and Online Casinos at forefront of UK Gambling Review

IN A LANDMARK piece of legislation back in 2005, the Gambling Act of that year approached the topic of internet gambling for the first time properly, looking at methods of controlling the then still relatively nascent industry. The idea was that this Act would provide the framework necessary to efficiently and fairly regulate the practices of online casinos, as well as other gambling activities under its purview. Notably, the Act states that its function is to prevent gambling being or becoming associated with crime, ensuring that gambling takes place in a fair and transparent setting and that children and other vulnerable people should be protected from exploitative or harmful business practices.

Two years later, in 2007, the Gambling Commission, which had been established by the abovementioned Gambling Act, began work in earnest and assumed the oversight responsibility for handling, among other things, licenses for gambling operators, including online casinos, which must display their license number on their website. At Playfrank GB, a UK casino offering casino games, they list their license number in the footer of their website alongside other commercial details as well as links to organizations directed towards fostering healthy and responsible gambling behaviours. Furthermore, elsewhere they state explicitly that “like all safe online casinos operating within the UK, PlayFrank is fully trusted and regulated by the UK Gambling Commission”.

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However, the efficiency with which the Commission has lived up to their other responsibilities with regards to gambling, and online gambling in particular, has recently been called into question. In recent years a cross-party and highly bipartisan effort has emerged in the UK Government to review the industry and institute an array of regulatory changes with stated aims including further securing the safety of vulnerable gamblers online (such as the impoverished and young) as well as reviewing advertising practices especially with regards to young people. Other interested parties have expressed a desire for caps to be added on monthly gambling or monthly losses as well as tax breaks for companies moving back onshore, in order to stimulate a return of gambling companies back to the UK.

During October of this year, the UK Government will conduct its review of the Gambling Act and Commission and all signs point to the above-mentioned issues of online gambling and advertising being of central importance. Indeed, following a report from Ipsos MORI and GambleAware published in March of this year laying out the effects of gambling advertisements on young people’s behaviour, Members of both Houses are now supporting stronger restrictions on the ability for gambling companies to advertise their services.

The issues of advertising and online gambling are of particular significance given that this review of gambling legislation is taking place as the globally tumultuous year of 2020 begins to draw to an end. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the landscape of the gambling industry, with the BBC reporting in a series of articles throughout the year just how the health crisis has impacted the industry.

Social distancing and lockdowns have led more and more people to spend an increasing amount of time both online in general as well as in online gambling environments in particular, increasing their exposure to the aforementioned advertisements. During this time, internet trends reveal that interests in gambling, and in particular online gambling, have seen huge spikes. These factors together already spell out a huge challenge to gamblers with problematic behaviours, and are further exacerbated by the NHS needing to pull staff away from treatments targeted at gambling addictions due to the extraneous circumstances of the pandemic.

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Exactly how the Government will meet these challenges, and what revisions will be instituted to the Gambling Act as well as to the operation of the Gambling Commission remains to be seen, but with key figures across the political spectrum as well as independent think tanks, etc. all displaying an interest in reform, the industry is likely in for a huge shift this year and next.

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