MPs call for reform of online gambling laws

Out-Law News | 07 Nov 2019 | 9:20 am | 2 min. read

New gambling laws are needed for the digital age, a cross-party group of MPs has said.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm (GRH APPG) said current legislation has its limitations and that new laws should be introduced and "focus on prevention of harm and retrospective concerns" and further "assess the kind of industry we would like to have in the future".

"The most recent primary legislation in the area, the Gambling Act 2005, is analogue legislation in a digital age and in need of urgent revision," the GRH APPG said. "A few years ago the online gambling industry was described as being akin to the ‘wild west’ – without sufficient regulation and legislation. Whilst things have moved on, the current regime does not take account of the exponential growth of the online sector and the weak parameters around it."

The MPs called for an immediate ban on gambling online with a credit card and also advocated the introduction of a new a ‘duty of care’ for operators, which would place them under a statutory obligation "to not exploit those with addictions".

The GRH APPG further recommended that new curbs be placed on stakes and deposits in online gambling. Currently there are no limits on the amount of money online gambling customers can add to their accounts or lay as stakes.

"It is possible to bet thousands of pounds in a matter of minutes from a mobile phone with no supervision," the MPs said in their report, calling for online limits to be brought into line with those introduced for fixed odds betting terminals in high-street betting shops.

"The government has accepted the principle that harm can be reduced by reducing staking levels," the report said. "They agreed that the way to limit the harm from was to limit the stake to £2. It is abundantly clear that stake and deposit limits are needed in the online world to limit harm. We do not see the justification for having slot machine style games online with staking levels above £2. If they are not acceptable in land-based venues they should not be allowed online. Reducing the stake levels would reduce the amount that is spent and prevents players from ‘chasing their losses’ by doubling up significant sums with each successive bet."

The MPs also said reviews are needed into the use of bonuses and incentives by gambling operators and into the use of affiliates for marketing purposes too.

Criticism was also levelled at the Gambling Commission. The regulator "needs to urgently improve its standards in the area of online gambling", the MPs said.

Gambling law expert Christopher Rees-Gay of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the GRH APPG's report was "far reaching".

"It should be noted that this is an interim report and that it had been produced before the cross-party group had met with the Gambling Commission or the new gambling minister," Rees-Gay said. "It will be very interesting to see how the Gambling Commission respond to this, especially as many operators would argue that level of enforcement pursued, and fines imposed, by the regulator are too high."