The UK is amid a major review of its gaming industry, and John Whittingdale, a longtime member of Parliament who has advocated against more strict betting regulations, is now heading the probe.
Whittingdale, a conservative minister who’s been in the Parliament of the United Kingdom since 1992, has been put in charge of the landmark review of gambling laws.
There are many opponents to Whittingdale heading the comprehensive review. In the past, he’s advocated for fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) being allowed at gas stations and arcades, and was against reducing betting maximums on FOBTs from £100 ($140) to £2 ($2.79).
The UK’s review of its gambling laws, which were passed in the 2005 Gambling Act, began last fall. Numerous issues are being considered, including whether to limit how much a gambler can bet online, how fast an interactive slot machine or FOBT can operate, and if players should be required to prove that they can afford their losses.
Critics Voice Opposition
Whittingdale’s appointment to steer the gambling review is being challenged by some of his Westminster colleagues.
“Given the new appointee has a history of being strongly supportive of the industry, I very much hope he will be focused on the evidence and not influenced by aggressive industry lobbying,” said Labour’s Carolyn Harris.
Whittingdale replaces Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston in the role after roughly three months into the review. The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports (DCMS), which is overseeing the gambling review, did not issue a reason for Huddleston’s departure.
The failures of successive ministers to right the wrongs of the 2005 Gambling Act and rein in the greed of the gambling industry has led to thousands of people dying through gambling-related suicide and millions of lives torn apart. The new minister has a chance to put this right. Bereaved families will hold him to the task of preserving the lives of the next generation,” demanded Liz Ritchie, executive director of the “Gambling with Lives” nonprofit.
The gaming industry says Whittingdale is up to the task.
“John commands huge respect and he is a formidable politician who brings a wealth of experience and knowledge,” said Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). The BGC is the UK gaming industry’s leading lobbying group.
The UK government’s decision to slash FOBT limits to just £2, which went into effect in 2019, resulted in hundreds of high street betting shops closing. FOBTs, dubbed the “crack cocaine” of gambling by their critics, are the main revenue generators for such gaming businesses.
COVID-19 further hurt the gaming industry, as the retail businesses were forced to close for much of 2020. They remain shuttered, but are expected to reopen on April 12.
“This is an uncertain time for many of the more than 100,000 people who work in the industry, as we navigate the sector safely out of the COVID restrictions,” Dugher added. “Our industry wants to play a full part in helping kick-start the economy, supporting jobs and growth, and contributing to the exchequer.”
The BGC expressed its support this week for Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s call to provide each high street betting shop with a one-time £6,000 “recovery grant.”
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