John Whittingdale Steps in at Helm of Gambling Review

John Whittingdale will head the Gambling Act 2005 review amid concerns that he may be too lenient on the industry.

Whittingdale to Steer Future of Gambling in UK

British minister for media and data John Whittingdale will spearhead the government’s pending review of the Gambling Act, the most significant overhaul of the country’s gambling industry laws since the legislation was introduced in 2005.

Whittingdale’s history with gambling is a public record, having previously supported fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to be introduced at places such as arcades and service stations.

FOBTs were some of the first aspects of gambling to face serious changes in the country when maximum betting limits were reduced from £100 to £2 in 2019. The news of Whittingdale stepping in at the helm of the gambling review has elicited a strong response from gambling opponents who argued that he might not be the best fit.

Whittingdale will replace Nigel Huddleston, the minister for sports, several months after the review started. Campaigners have argued that Whittingdale has a proven record of being tough on the gambling industry, but he didn’t see FOBTs as a threat, for example. 

The FOBTs saga led to Tracey Crouch’s resignation, the former minister for sports, who left her post as a protest of lingering legislation. Her resignation prompted the quick implementation of the FOBTs measure, which led to reduced losses for players in the country in 2020

Is Whittingdale Too Pro-Gambling? 

However, Whittingdale’s own involvement as chair of the select culture committee and his endorsement of installing fixed-odds betting terminals at bingo halls, service stations, and arcades have been a red flag to some. 

At the time, he argued that FOBTs weren’t as addictive as they were made to be. He took a common comparison between betting terminals and “crack cocaine” and argued that he wasn’t too sure if these games were even the “cannabis of gambling.” He was partly rebutted by a study that proved that over ten months, there were 233,000 instances of players betting over £1,000.

Apart from everyday gambling skeptics, Whittingdale would have to meet the expectations of his fellow legislators. Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who is at the helm of the committee looking into gambling-related harm, argued that the new appointee had a track record of supporting gambling. 

However, the Department for DigitalCultureMedia, and Sport has backed up the appointee arguing that it’s the right pick for the job. He is stepping in at a time when the public and legislators are particularly skeptical about the role gambling plays in supporting sports.

New Realities for Gambling Regulation 

In fact, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has turned down gambling sponsorship, moving forward arguing that there was another way to sustain sports, and delivering a strong argument against over-reliance on the gambling sector.

However, FIA executive Jonathan Hill did say the government should allow the organization to tap into some of the gambling tax the country collects. 

Gambling with Lives charity member Liz Ritchie said that the government should act quickly to “right the wrongs” of the Gambling Act 2005 and make up for the lost time previous ministers squandered, tearing millions of lives apart. 

According to The Guardian, Whittingdale has repeatedly opposed measures to over-regulate the industry, but this track record will now come under closer scrutiny with many eyeballs on the issue. Gambling Act 2005’s review will bring around some significant changes to the industry, and stakeholders know that, regardless of who is leading it.

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