Conservative MP John Whittingdale has taken over the Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005, new reports have revealed.
According to The Guardian, Whittingdale, the MP for Maldon and the Minister for Media and Data, has taken over responsibility for the review from Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston. The site reports that Whittingdale has taken over the review due to Nigel Huddlestone’s workload over his efforts in helping the sport, tourism and heritage industries recover from Covid-19.
The announcement has sparked concern from campaigners over Whittingdale’s past voting record, being in favour of allowing fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) at amusement arcades and motorway service stations and for voting against stronger regulation of the gambling industry.
The Guardian also reports that Whittingdale was opposed to tougher restrictions across the gambling industry as Whittingdale voted against forcing gambling operators to ban people who self-excluded in 2013.
Carolyn Harris, Labour MP and chair of a cross-party group investigating gambling-related harm, expressed concern over the change and said: “Given the new appointee has a history of being strongly supportive of the industry, I very must hope he will be focused on the evidence and not influenced by aggressive industry lobbying.”
Liz Ritchie from the Gambling With Lives charity also expressed concern over the appointment, telling the Guardian: “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. Bereaves families will hold him to the task of preserving the lives of the next generation.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport issued a statement on the change, saying: “The minister fully supports the comprehensive, evidence-led review of the Gambling Act to ensure that legislation is fit for the digital age.”
While news of Whittingdale’s appointment has sparked concern among campaigners, the Betting and Gaming Council has congratulated Whittingdale while also paying tribute to Nigel Huddleston, whom the organisation says has done a “superb job” under current circumstances.
In the blog post praising the change, BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said: “I’d like to welcome John Whittingdale to his expanded role and enhanced responsibilities at DCMS.
“I know John well from my time in Parliament and in the music industry. John commands huge respect and he is a formidable politician who brings a wealth of experience and knowledge. The BGC represents the bulk of the regulated sector – from high street betting shops, casinos, online gaming and bingo – and we look forward to working with him.”
He continued: “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. Our industry wants to play a full part in helping kickstart the economy, supporting jobs and growth, and contributing to the exchequer.”
Dugher then reiterated the organisation’s support for the gambling review, saying: “The BGC has warmly welcomed the Government’s gambling review, which is a golden opportunity to build on the work we have already done on raising standards, promoting safer gambling and driving big changes across the industry. We know how important that work is to the DCMS.
“I’d also like to pay tribute to Nigel Huddleston, who has done a superb job in challenging circumstances. He always understood the importance of the industry to the economy and to millions of people to regularly and safely enjoy a flutter. And he was always willing to engage with us, in particular in championing continued progress on safer gambling. Given the important contribution the betting industry makes to sport and the ongoing challenging facing sport’s finances, we look forward to continuing to work with him and we wish him all the very best.”
Meanwhile, leading gambling operator Flutter Entertainment has published its revenue report for 2020. In it, Flutter reported revenue of £4.3 billion, more than double what it earned in 2019 with £2.1 billion.
According to FocusGN, the increase in revenue comes as a result of Flutter’s acquisition of The Stars Group and its PokerStars, Fox Bet, and Sky Betting & Gaming brands, a takeover which completed back in May.
Flutter found that gaming revenue rose 253.7% to £1.67 billion in 2020, and its sportsbook revenue rose 63.5% to £2.73 billion. However, Flutter reported a fall in revenue from Paddy Power Betfair, which decreased by 2.2% to £1.29 billion due to the closure of retail shops across the UK a shift to online play.
Peter Jackson, the CEO of Flutter Entertainment, said in a statement: “We delivered a very strong financial performance in 2020, benefitting from our scale and diversification. We continue to grow our recreational player base across all key regions, in Q4 alone the Group had over 7.6 million monthly players.”
The news comes after Flutter Entertainment announced it would be giving 14,000 members of staff a £1,000 bonus for working during the pandemic and after the operator announced a series of safer gambling measures for Ireland, including a ban on credit card use at retail shops and its online websites.
Peter Jackson also spoke with Thisismoney.com, in which he addressed Flutter’s efforts in improving safer gambling in the UK, the ongoing review of the Gambling Act 2005, and the UK Gambling Commission’s recent rule changes on the design and play of online video slots.
He said: “Safer gambling is critical to building a sustainable global business, and we are determined to lead the industry in implementing the highest standards of customer protection against our markets.
“This includes the UK, where we welcome the Government’s review of gambling legislation and support the delivery of a balanced framework that will protect vulnerable customers while allowing the many who enjoy a bet to continue to do so safely.”