British Gambling Legislation: Major Reform on the Horizon

Author:Mr Julian Harris
Profession:Pinsent Masons


By now most readers will be aware that, after more than 30 years, there is now at least a serious prospect of major reforms to British gambling legislation, which most people agree are long overdue. This follows the publication of the gambling review report on 17 July 2001.

The Review Body was set up by Government early in 2000, as an independent but non political committee with 10 members of varying backgrounds, only one of which, Peter Dean, the Chairman of the Gaming Board for Great Britain, had direct experience of gambling.

This was the first major review of gambling law since Lord Rothschild's Royal Commission published its recommendations in 1978. Most of those recommendations were never put into effect, and there had only been minor changes to gambling legislation in the intervening decades. Meanwhile however, there have been changes to the public perception of an attitude to gambling: in the 1960s it was regarded as a vice of the few which nevertheless had to be tolerated, whereas by the 1990s it had become an acceptable adult recreation enjoyed by many. The popularity of gambling had been vastly increased by the National Lottery, and there have been significant technology developments, such as the availability of internet gambling and computerised gambling machines, never envisaged by the legislation.

The report had therefore been eagerly awaited by the gambling industry since Government announced its review in December 1999, and it is a credit to the Review Body that it was published to schedule, after a great deal of hard work. The report runs to some 256 pages and contains no less than 176 recommendations relating to all forms of gambling.

I make no excuse for not addressing all of the recommendations in the report, or the detail of their effect. Rather the purpose of this article is to highlight the most important recommendations, to set our my views of the effect of those recommendations on the industry and on gambling in Britain generally, and to offer an opinion on how and when they may come into effect.

Principles of Reform

The aim of the Review Body was plainly to propose a package of reforms that would on the one hand achieve a balance between liberalisation of gambling, with simplified regulation and increased choice for adults wishing to gamble in the competitive market, whilst on the other hand not producing a status society which may be undesirable. There was clearly a concern that a more relaxed approach may greatly increase the number of gaming establishments, raise the number of active gamblers and increase time and money spent on gambling. It was therefore important to reduce opportunities for gambling by younger people, to create tighter controls over those providing gambling facilities and ensure that they provide gambling in a way which is socially responsible.

The resolution of this dilemma was the adoption of the time honoured British approach, namely a compromise, and in my view a sensible one. The Review Body has achieved its aim of balance between freedom and regulation. Few would disagree that an industry that has no commodity other than money needs to be regulated, and operators as well as consumers need to be protected from the infiltration of the unscrupulous. That remains as true today as it was in 1968.

Therefore, the principles that underlined the 1968 legislation remain as relevant in 2001, and it is not surprising that the Review Body decided...

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