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Gambling

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 7 January 2010

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Gerry Sutcliffe) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 30 April 2009, I announced that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (the department) and the Gambling Commission (the commission) would undertake a review of the current system of remote gambling regulation in Great Britain focusing on consumer protection and ways to ensure that overseas operators contribute towards regulation, problem gambling treatment and the horserace betting levy.

We have examined the way in which the system currently works and explored the major regulatory changes taking place in Europe. I have decided, based on our findings, to consult on changing the existing system of remote gambling regulation in Britain so that all operators who want to target British consumers must be licensed by the commission.

Under an extended remote gambling licensing system, all operators active in the British market would have to adhere to the Act’s provisions, its secondary legislation and the commission’s standards and requirements. That would mean obligations to report suspicious betting activity to the commission and UK sports bodies, as well as compliance with the commission’s software testing, age verification, self-exclusion, technical standards and social responsibility requirements, bringing a more consistent level of protection for British consumers.

My proposals would also assist the commission in effectively advising the Government about the gambling that takes place in Britain and ensure that it is properly funded for the regulatory work that it already undertakes, such as test purchase exercises on overseas websites and dealing with public inquiries.

British gamblers form one of the largest customer bases for online gambling in the EU. Yet, for many reasons, increasingly few companies active in the British market are now regulated by the commission. Though British consumers are not unprotected—most overseas jurisdictions have regulatory systems—standards vary and requirements differ from our own. Therefore, I feel that change is necessary to ensure that the protections in the Gambling Act—to keep gambling crime-free, to ensure that gambling is fair and open and to ensure that children and vulnerable people are protected from harm—continue to be afforded to British consumers.

These proposals would require legislative change to implement and there remain many complex issues to be considered—for example, how we can actively police an extended licensing system and keep burdens on industry to a minimum. We must also be mindful of wider issues of importance to the industry, such as taxation. But while tax forms part of the overall picture, it is right that we have focused exclusively on regulatory challenges. Taxation policy is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, although close liaison with HM Treasury will be essential in ensuring that implications for taxation policy are properly considered, that need not prevent the regulatory proposals that I have outlined from being published for consultation

The department has also explored in some considerable detail the issues surrounding the application of the horserace betting levy to overseas operators. I will be continuing this vital work, in conjunction with the levy board, with the intention of ensuring that all operators taking bets on British races pay to support British horseracing.