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Gambling Act 2005 (Operating Licence Conditions) (Amendment) Regulations 2018

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2018

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Gambling Act 2005 (Operating Licence Conditions) (Amendment) Regulations 2018

My Lords, the draft regulations would impose a new mandatory condition on the holders of any betting operating licence issued under the Gambling Act 2005. The purpose of this new condition is to prevent these operators accepting bets from British consumers on the outcome of the EuroMillions draw or a EuroMillions game in a participating country outside the UK. Section 95 of the Gambling Act 2005 already prohibits the holder of a betting licence from offering a bet on the outcome of any lottery which forms part of the National Lottery. This includes the lottery known in the UK as EuroMillions.

This additional licence condition extends the existing prohibition on betting on the National Lottery to all EuroMillions lottery games, and will apply to all general betting operating licences, pool betting licences, and betting intermediary licences issued by the Gambling Commission. This will reduce customer confusion that has arisen as a result of operators offering these bets and maintain the “clear blue water” between the National Lottery and other forms of gambling, as set out in Section 95 of the Gambling Act 2005.

I will set out the background to this SI. Because EuroMillions is structured as a separate game in each of the nine countries in which it is played, a small number of gambling operators are able to circumvent the prohibition in Section 95 and offer bets on the outcome of a non-UK EuroMillions lottery—for example, a bet on the outcome of the Spanish EuroMillions lottery. Our consultation showed that this has led to customer confusion, with research showing that a percentage of players are unable to distinguish between placing such a bet and buying a National Lottery EuroMillions ticket. Some operators even undercut the National Lottery and advertise products at a lower price than the National Lottery EuroMillions or offer multiple tickets for the price of one. They are able to do this because they do not return a proportion of their proceeds to good causes.

The Gambling Commission has already undertaken a number of measures to reduce customer confusion, and this has resulted in changes to how products are promoted, but even where such proactive steps have been taken we still see evidence of customers unable to distinguish between the two products. A further point of confusion is how players can potentially arrive at these betting websites. It cannot be right that if you want to buy a National Lottery EuroMillions ticket online, and you search for “EuroMillions”, you get a proliferation of sites offering a range of betting services to choose from. Between March and May 2017, the Government consulted on prohibiting betting on EuroMillions. Respondents included lottery operators, beneficiaries of lottery funding, betting operators and members of the public. There were 52 responses and 32 strongly agreed with the proposal that non-UK EuroMillions bets should be prohibited. Not surprisingly, the only respondents to strongly disagree were operators offering these bets.

Betting on the outcome of lotteries is nothing new—it has been offered legally for many years, but not on the National Lottery. For most operators offering bets on lotteries, the product is one element of a wider portfolio. British customers will still be able to participate in the other products offered by these operators, which remain unaffected by this action. Betting on EuroMillions is a growing market, and it is important that we maintain the clear distinction between the National Lottery and other forms of gambling, as set out in Section 95 of the Gambling Act 2005. The effect of these regulations will be to bring non-UK EuroMillions draws in line with the UK draws and prevent gambling operators from taking advantage of the technical way EuroMillions is structured, as individual country draws. More urgently, this action will eliminate customer confusion. For these reasons, I commend these regulations to the Committee.

I am happy to support the regulations. I declare an interest as the chairman of the Alderney Gambling Control Commission and as a veteran of the scrutiny committee on the draft Gambling Act 2005. I recall very well that there were a lot of debates then about whether betting on the National Lottery should be permitted. Our advice was that it should not, for the reasons that the Minister has explained. There has always been a conflict of interest for the National Lottery and the role of the Gambling Commission as its regulator, which remains unresolved. The Gambling Commission—and the National Lottery Commission before it—had the twin objectives of player protection, in ensuring that people did not spend excessive amounts on the lottery and get themselves into difficulty, and the requirement to maximise the return to good causes. As I say, that conflict remains unresolved and will, I suspect, continue to remain so.

The regulations deal with companies such as Lottoland, from which I received a certain amount of unsolicited promotional material. It is based in Gibraltar and offers bets not just on the EuroMillions Lottery but on competitions such as the US Powerball, the Irish Lottery and something called the Bitcoin Lottery. I am not surprised that it opposed the regulations; being able to cash in on the promotion of EuroMillions is a nice little earner for it. Like the Minister, I do not agree that it is right for such companies to do that, so I support the order.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to the order. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who took us down memory lane with the Gambling Act 2005. It reminds me that I have been doing this job almost as long, I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, which is saying something.

I entirely accept the logic and reasons outlined by the Minister. First, there is the confusion that has clearly been caused. I, too, thought that Camelot’s briefing was pretty cogent on the subject of the damage to the EuroMillions and National Lottery brands in this country. Of course, that has a detrimental effect on participation. It is interesting that Camelot’s research found that only 14% of consumers could correctly identify that buying a EuroMillions ticket via Lottoland —already mentioned—is actually a bet on EuroMillions in a foreign country. Over 60% thought that they were playing EuroMillions the UK. Indeed, I understand that Lottoland’s research found that 28% of its customers did not understand the difference between the two products. That is pretty conclusive.

Secondly, none of the revenue from betting on these lotteries is returned to good causes. That must be a major reason for passing this order. Then there is the fact that Camelot is having to spend quite a lot of money defending its National Lottery brand as a result of all this. That is another reason, so we on these Benches support action by the Government very strongly. This kind of betting on lotteries runs contrary to the spirit and intention of the law, causes customer confusion and harms returns to good causes.

As is ever the case with these orders, it is a very good excuse to probe the Government on one or two other matters. I turn to the relationship between the National Lottery and society lotteries in this context. We know about the success of the National Lottery, which has partly been because of the clear distinction between the National Lottery and society lotteries. A single national lottery has been operated in order to maximise returns to good causes. The economic case for a single national lottery has been examined on many occasions; I think the most recent occasion was when the Gambling Commission advised the DCMS on regulatory policy for the lottery sector. That was in September 2014. It said that,

“the relatively low prizes and generally limited distribution footprint are key factors that have traditionally differentiated the”,

society lottery,

“sector from TNL”—

that is, the National Lottery sector. To make a clear distinction between the National Lottery and smaller, traditional society lotteries, prize and proceed limits exist for society lotteries—as the Minister will know—with the top prize capped at £400,000.

The emergence of national or “umbrella” society lotteries has blurred the distinction between the National Lottery and society lotteries. These larger lotteries are sold and advertised nationally and run by commercial operations. For these reasons, umbrella lotteries stray into the territory originally intended by Parliament to be the sole preserve of the National Lottery through its single national lottery model. Of the current operators in the market, the only umbrella society lottery to offer the top prize of £400,000 is the People’s Postcode Lottery. Increasing the top prize for society lotteries could create, in effect, many more national lotteries, contrary to all economic evidence that a single national lottery is the optimal way to maximise returns to good causes.

After that barrage, my question is: do the Government accept that case and that increasing the top prize for society lotteries risks unbalancing the single national lottery model, putting revenue for good causes at risk, and that therefore there should be no change to the top prize value for society lotteries? I would be more than happy if the Minister wrote to me.

My Lords, I am more than grateful for the remarks that have already been made. I am discovering all the time how much more I am being educated in abstruse parts of our national life that I had no idea about at all. I am a sweet innocent abroad most of the time. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned a statistic which I have also fallen upon in the paperwork before us: the 28% of people who do not know the difference between gaming—betting—and a lottery. I would be part of that 28%, without any doubt. What I have learned about the overlap between the EuroMillions and the National Lottery is completely new to me. But I can quite see why it should be confusing and why it needs to be evened out.

Others have expressed their own interests. Mine is simply that I have worked with 12-step self-help groups of people wanting to recover from habits incurred in these areas of life—gambling and various kinds of addiction, particularly alcohol—and consequently I look at measures such as this as if I were someone who had the problem and ask myself: what would help me with these matters?

Are we satisfied with the fact that 28% do not know the difference or does that goad us to feel that there ought to be some way of educating people so that it is less than 28%? Is there not some obligation on us to provide a programme of public education, or should there not be some way of drawing to people’s attention to, first, what the difference is and, secondly, some of the other confusions that arose from the analysis offered by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones? I do not have a clue what society lotteries are. We have entertained people from the People’s Postcode Lottery, so I am beginning to be more alert to that. I am making progress on these things but if I am confused, it seems that we should ask ourselves: what do we do with people who are really confused and victims of their confusion?

Certainly, we ought to be driven by the fact that the National Lottery exists to raise money for good causes and anything that interferes with the clear profile that it has should be looked at askance. Is anyone else piggybacking on the National Lottery, taking advantage of the fact that the National Lottery is there, with all its structure and place in society and so on, and rather stealing its clothes in one way or another as it makes its appeal?

I wonder about the trademark authority refusing registration of the EuroMillions logo because of “near identical verbal elements”. In this area I can claim some expertise. Words are very much my tools. If one form of words confuses the ground between the EuroMillions and the National Lottery, I can think of a thousand ways in which we could change the words but still take advantage of the logo. Verbal similarity is not a difficult thing. I have marked undergraduate essays for long enough to know how to identify a little plagiarism now and again. Who monitors the logos? I guess it is the Gambling Commission, the advertising standards people or the trademark authority itself. We ought to keep an eye on these things and—this is the thrust of the statutory instrument—always ask ourselves: will this make for a clearer picture for the people who are the victims of, first, the confusion and, secondly, some of the exploitative methods that are employed by some people in that area of life? But I have no doubt at all that I approve of the order and I add my voice to others who have spoken in favour of it.

My Lords, I was not intending to speak on these regulations but I caught something my friend the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said and I thought I would respond to it. It was also mentioned by my noble friend Lord Griffiths in his response.

When we look at lottery matters, we should have regard to the fact that we are looking at a system under which the intention is to increase the amount of money paid out to good causes. We have adopted a model to do that which is not necessarily found in other parts of the world that have lotteries. I do not wish in any sense to emulate the length of time for which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has presided over this brief in his party but when I came to debate it, a long time after he started, I wondered whether we should think harder about the percentages going out of the National Lottery system into the good causes. That was presumably not unrelated to the fact that money had to be found for the Olympics, so there was a lot of tension and a focus in that.

However, things have moved on and I felt that some of the figures being cited by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, were not exactly in line with the current state of knowledge on this. For instance, I understand that there is now a report from the National Audit Office indicating clearly that the money going to the Postcode Lottery does not deflect from people’s interest in the National Lottery and that the representations made on behalf of the Postcode Lottery—that it should be allowed to expand its prize money, which is the point he made—have been the subject of lengthy discussion and consideration in the department. I think there are still consultations going on.

The Minister may know that I have tabled a Question for Written Answer on this matter, to which I am sure she will want to speedily return to amplify what she says in response to this debate. If she wants to wait until then, I will be quite happy, but my point is that there is an ongoing debate to be had about the proportion of money that the public wish to see going to national causes, which means that our model needs to be robust and sustainable.

First, is it time to reflect on that? Secondly, is there room now for this in a society that has changed out of all recognition since the National Lottery was formed, and which has an interest in local events? Research exists now to show that the Postcode Lotteries which are done postcode by postcode in the full system, and which operate right across Europe successfully, may offer another approach to giving for good causes in that the committees set up under the Postcode Lottery seem to be locally focused. The giving is therefore not so much for the benefit of winning a big prize, because the prizes are more modest, but because there is more satisfaction in the direct channelling of money towards local causes. It may be appropriate for the Government to look at whether it is time to think again about these things so that we can get more sense, and, we hope, more money, into the system.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. As the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said, it might be a steep learning curve for him but it is an even steeper learning curve for me. It is marvellous to have so many experts here today. I am very much the old new girl on the block where this is concerned, so it is interesting to hear everything that the Committee has said.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, talked about the deal with companies such as Lottoland. We feel that one problem is that this is a growing market, which is why it is so important to bring this SI in. As several noble Lords have mentioned, there is no doubt that it takes away from people taking part in the National Lottery, which then takes away from good causes and so on.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, talked about society lotteries, as did the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. Evidence shows that, to date, there has been no substitution between society lotteries and the National Lottery due to the very different prospects they offer the players who take part. We have been looking at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s recommendations on society lotteries and we will look closely at how we feel they are working, including on the top prize. We hope to provide a further update on that in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, talked about customer confusion. Again, we hope that this SI will sort this out. The ban certainly aims to reduce customer confusion by protecting those who wish to buy a EuroMillions lottery ticket online from ending up on a betting site.

It is always important to keep education in mind and find ways to improve it, making sure that people are betting on what they want to bet on and not on something else. It is not our intention to prevent operators offering bets on lotteries that do not form part of the National Lottery to consumers who genuinely wish to place legitimate bets on such a lottery. Betting on the National Lottery is already illegal and the point of this ban is to bring betting on all EuroMillions products in line with the rest of the National Lottery portfolio.

I think that has answered all the questions. I have a note that was handed to me; is it something I forgot? The National Lottery is a uniquely important part of British society. Each year, it raises around £1.6 billion for good causes and has raised a total of £37 billion—a pretty impressive sum—since it started in 1994, supporting important charity, heritage, arts and sports projects. From the charities I am involved in, I have found the National Lottery a great help on many occasions.

In bringing forward these regulations imposing a new licence condition, we are doing no more than extending the existing protection against betting on the National Lottery and taking action to remove consumer confusion in relation to bets on EuroMillions games. I commend the regulations to the House.

Motion agreed.