Rishi Sunak, the United Kingdom’s new prime minister, could greatly impact the direction of the global gambling industry as his new-look government seeks to reform iGaming and gambling legislation.

The UK has been working on rewriting its gambling laws for years but perpetual changes of government means little progress has been made to passing bills into law.

Every new prime minister – from Theresa May to Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – has sought to put their own stamp on the country’s revision of gambling laws, which are in dire need of updating.

The industry has braced itself for what could be tight regulation on everything from online gambling technology to player safeguarding.

And there is now hope that Sunak will inject a libertarian spirit into the new legislation.

UK Gambling Laws Latest

Right now the government has put on ice proposed reforms for the 2005 Gambling Act. It was announced back in 2019 that the UK Gambling Commission would begin researching reforms and drawing up a list of proposals to the government.

Some swift measures were put in place in April 2020 when the maximum bet in UK games machines dropped from £100 to £2. That caused controversy as many worried the betting industry would suffer as a response, but in fact it has had little serious impact on the industry, while helping problem gamblers tackle their addictions.

The Covid-19 outbreak forced many gamblers to move to online gambling, and take up special offers available to them. The £2 bet limit does not extend to online slot machines.

Fast-forward to 2022 and the UKGC made its recommendations to the government, which began drawing up a gambling reforms bill. It has proved controversial as the UKGC proposed tighter restrictions, greater player safety measures and the introduction of a gambling levee. Libertarians – many of whom were at the heart of Johnson’s government – didn’t like the proposals. And the horse racing industry warned it would cost them £60m ($69m) a year.

But then in the summer of 2022 Johnson was ousted as PM following a spate of sleaze scandals. Liz Truss was instated as leader but didn’t get round to tackling gambling reform before she was forced to resign 45 days into her premiership.

Now Sunak is in charge and legislators are seeking to continue the discussion over the UK’s gambling reform.

How Sunak Could Affect UK Gambling

One of the big recommendations put to the government is that gamblers provide pay slips, tax returns and bank statements in order to open a betting account. Industry insiders think this is prohibitive, even though many online casinos and sportsbooks already request forms of identification such as this.

There are calls for the UKGC to reign in its recommendations over concerns strict gambling regulations would impose on people’s privacy.

Sunak may well share this view but is likely to come down on the financial side of the argument over anything else. And that is probably going to see him back the libertarian view, as it’s a far more lucrative venture than taking the restrictive path proposed by the UKGC.

Sunak is said to have enjoyed playing $20 poker games while at business school in Silicon Valley. And while he’s not ready to gamble with the UK economy, he could throw a few chips the way of the betting industry.

How This Affects the Rest of the World

And gambling companies from around the world will be looking at how Sunak deals with the UK’s domestic betting and casino landscape. Financially, relaxing betting regulations and being more liberal with how people bet is always going to generate more tax revenue. However, from a social perspective it’s likely to lead to more gambling addicts and problem gamblers.

A Conservative approach would be to put the responsibility in the hands of the individual – and that’s currently the same path America is taking with its expanding gambling industry. Yes, safeguarding is in place and casinos must pay taxes and often charitable levees on their revenues. But often safeguarding is considered secondary to freedom of choice.

Things are different in Europe. The Netherlands is shrinking its online gambling industry, and France, Spain and Germany treat it with caution. Italy perhaps has the closest ties to the UK in terms of legislative ideology, while countries in Scandinavia – where many of the world’s online gambling firms originate – are in a perpetual regulatory cycle over how to deal with the industry.

Over in Australia individual states are investigating alleged fraud and money laundering at casinos across the country. And in Macau the Chinese authorities are desperately trying to open up the industry to more tourists, in order to wean it off an over-reliance of Chinese junkets.

If the UK goes for the libertarian approach to online gambling then it will strengthen America’s resolve to do the same. It could also cause a sticking point with Europe.

But no matter the government’s decision, it’s going to take a long time for a new bill to pass into law. The process has already been delayed three times – who’s saying it would be set back again?

Joe Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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