Minister Stuart Andrew's speech at the Betting and Gaming Council Annual General Meeting

Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew updates on gambling white paper progress at the Betting and Gaming Council Annual General Meeting
 The Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP

Good morning everyone, and thank you for the invitation to speak today. 

Before I begin, I would like to say thank you to Brigid for all your work during your time as Chair of the BGC. We appreciate the constructive and considered input you and the BGC have provided to my department’s work, not just during my time as Minister but throughout your tenure. 

Last year my predecessor spoke of the important contributions BGC members make to our national economy. I would like to again recognise this contribution, not just in revenue terms, but also the social and entertainment benefits your businesses bring to millions of customers who enjoy gambling and suffer no harm at all. Throughout my time as minister, and as an MP, I have seen how this industry boosts both local and national economies through jobs and tourism. 

A lot has happened since your last AGM, I think that is a bit of an understatement. In April last year we published the White Paper, setting out 62 proposals that will ensure our gambling laws are fit for the modern age and I am absolutely aware of just how much hard work this has required from the BGC and its members, as well as my department and the Gambling Commission. I would therefore like to put on record my thanks to you all for your cooperation, your engagement and help in developing the proposals, as well as your hard work to begin their implementation over the last 10 months. 

I know that Michael is sick of the sight of me given that we meet almost every week but I have found that engagement really valuable.

I would now like to provide you with an update on our programme of work and ensure you have clarity on the direction of travel. 

As you will all be aware, our White Paper strikes a balance between consumer freedom - preserving the rights of those who enjoy gambling and suffer no ill-effects - with the necessary action to tackle harmful gambling and the devastating consequences it can have for some individuals and communities.

It includes a comprehensive range of measures that covers every aspect of the industry, reflecting the huge changes in the gambling landscape since 2005. Around half of the proposals in the White Paper have now been consulted on or have been completed. 

During Monday’s debate I made reference to the white paper consultations. I make no apologies for emphasising the importance of the consultations undertaken by the Government and the Gambling Commission. They have given us invaluable evidence to inform policy making. They ensure that the measures are robust, proportionate, and in line with the White Paper’s objectives. And they show that the Government is listening to your views and evidence.

I would like to focus the rest of my time today on the announcements made last week by DCMS and the Gambling Commission on our work on online gambling measures.    

You will have seen that last Friday we confirmed the introduction of stake limits for online slot games. Bringing in limits for the first time is a key step in ensuring the regulatory framework is fit for the digital age. Our aim is not to prohibit play, but to embed best practice that many of you already do. 

We are confident that the limits of £5 for over 25s and £2 for 18 to 24 year olds represents a proportional response. It will see online slots aligned with casino limits and will ensure customers are further protected from unaffordable and life-changing losses.

As set out in the consultation response, these limits will come into force in September this year and have the support of industry. 

We are confident that this is an important step forward in ensuring that the vast majority of people who gamble safely can continue to do so, but that enhanced protections are in place for those who may suffer harm. 

Turning to financial risk checks, the Gambling Commission confirmed last week that they will be proceeding with these proposals. I am sure you hear more on this from Andrew Rhodes later today, but their plans include both the light-touch financial vulnerability checks and the enhanced financial risk assessments. 

The financial vulnerability checks are intended to be introduced in two stages over the course of this summer. Responding to feedback received through the consultation, the Commission has reassured everyone that they will never require gambling businesses to consider an individual’s personal details, such as their postcode or job title, as part of the checks. 

To ease the introduction of these checks, they will initially come into force at a higher threshold for a short period of time, before reverting to a lower threshold later in the year. We expect this lower threshold to be closely aligned with that proposed in the white paper.

I know that some of your members have concerns with the proposed system of checks. I would like to reiterate that both the Government and the Gambling Commission are listening, because we genuinely we want to get this right. 

We are clear that financial risk checks should not overregulate the gambling sector, should not unduly disrupt the millions of people who gamble without suffering harm, and should not cause unnecessary damage to the industry.

The proposed system will be a significant improvement to the current system of inconsistent so-called ‘affordability’ checks, which are often onerous for customers to complete. It will provide clear and proportionate rules which all operators are held to, and allow for financial data to be shared seamlessly with operators, instead of burdening customers with information requests. 

I have been clear that these checks should be genuinely frictionless - one of my first discussions with officials on taking on the gambling brief was around how we would deliver this - and the White Paper was clear that they will not be implemented until we can guarantee that they are. 

To ensure these checks are implemented in an effective but proportionate manner the Gambling Commission has announced it will conduct a pilot over the coming months. I am pleased that the pilot will involve collaboration between the Commission, credit reference agencies and a selection of gambling businesses to ensure that the process of an assessment is effective. The sector’s involvement gives me confidence that we will be able to find a solution that everyone can support.

We are therefore grateful for the input of BGC members into this pilot to ensure it is a meaningful test of the policy. The Commission will consider all issues that arise during the pilot stage - and are clear that this will help refine the final requirements and the models for data-sharing. I, and the Government, are supportive of the evidence-led and consumer-centred approach being proposed during this pilot. 

But until these checks are fully in place, it is essential that the industry is more transparent with its customers. 

An industry-led code is an important stepping stone while frictionless checks are piloted. It will mitigate the impact of customers having to provide documentation, while we develop this new, frictionless system of checks. 

I know that discussions are ongoing between the Commission and industry, and I really would urge all parties to come to an agreement on this code as soon as possible for the benefit of customers.  

I would now like to turn briefly to horse racing and the concerns about the impact of financial risk checks on the sport. I want to reassure you again that we have heard these concerns and take them very seriously. 

I have met with the British Horseracing Authority and the Betting and Gaming Council several times as we conduct our review of the Horserace Betting Levy, which is due by April this year.

As there is currently no legislative opportunity to amend the levy, I have encouraged the betting and racing industries to work together on a voluntary deal. I am very grateful for the constructive manner in which those negotiations have taken place. We said in the White Paper that we will ensure that racing is appropriately funded going forward, and I am confident that agreement can be reached which is mutually beneficial and is in the best interests of the sport. 

I am grateful for the work which operators have undertaken with the Gambling Commission to explore the practical aspects of implementing these checks. We want to protect those at risk of harm - something that I make no apologies for - but with minimal disruption to the majority, who I recognise bet on horse racing with no ill effect.

We know that British racing is a substantial asset to the country. We remain committed to supporting the industry to prosper, and I am confident that the way in which these checks will be implemented will not prevent that from happening. 

I know you will be keen to understand what is coming next in the pipeline. 

We will publish our consultation responses on land-based gambling measures and the statutory levy in the coming months, and will lay secondary legislation to bring measures into force across all relevant areas as soon as parliamentary time allows. Nonetheless, I am absolutely determined to ensure that we deliver on our commitment to bring key measures into force by the summer of this year.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak today, and giving me this opportunity to update you on our programme of reform. As we look to conclude work on our key proposals I hope I have demonstrated to you that we will continue to listen, we will test, and we will adapt our approach as this fast-moving industry develops and I thank you for that continued engagement.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport
The Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP