Review of gambling laws will seek to ensure legislation is ‘fit for the digital age’

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston has confirmed a wide-ranging review of gambling laws will look at betting advertising in sport.

The review of the 2005 Gambling Act has been announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, as the Government seeks to ensure gambling legislation is fit for the digital age.

Huddleston told the House of Commons on Tuesday: “We will consider gambling advertising, including sports sponsorship, while taking into account the extremely difficult financial situation that many sports organisations find themselves in now, as well as broadcasters, as a result of Covid.”

In response to a question from Ronnie Cowan, the Scottish National Party MP for Inverclyde, about whether the review would seek to speak to those with a lived experience of the harms of gambling addiction, Huddleston said: “The Secretary of State and I have already met with many victims and their families and we will continue to do so.

“In terms of sport, if there is evidence of harm coming from sponsorship and advertising, we will act, and I welcome the scrutiny that he and others will pay to this review as it progresses.”

The terms of reference for the review state: “A significant channel for gambling brand marketing is sponsorship of sports teams and events, including shirt sponsorship and similar deals with sports bodies.

“Commercial arrangements with gambling operators are a significant source of income for British sports and teams, particularly horse racing and football teams.

“While the government has always been clear that sporting bodies must consider their responsibility to the welfare of fans and supporters when agreeing such deals, we have equally recognised their right to benefit from commercial deals.

“However, with growing public concern about the relationship between sport and gambling, we are seeking evidence on the positive and negative outcomes of this relationship to make sure we can strike an appropriate balance in developing policy.”

Conservative MP Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) outlined the financial contribution made by betting companies to sports such as horse racing.

He said: “Can I join (Conservative MP Craig Whittaker) and just remind (Nigel Huddleston) of the enormous contribution which betting companies make to horse racing to the tune of about £350 million a year, which is a very large amount to that sport even in ordinary times.

“At the moment, like other sports, it’s going through very, very difficult times and without that contribution, horse racing would not survive.”

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston (David Davies/PA)

Mr Huddleston responded: “Horse racing is of course a vital industry in the UK. I can confirm that the Levy actually is not due for review on horse racing to 2021, it’s not explicitly part of this review, but the role that gambling has and (its) link with sport, we recognise that there are some challenges but also many upsides and we will consider those as part of this review.”

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust said in a statement: “Betting on horse racing is enjoyed by millions of people safely and responsibly, with a low prevalence for gambling-related harm.

“Despite the low levels of problem gambling in the sport, racing promotes responsible gambling and is committed to working with the betting industry to further reduce risk. We will also work closely with our partners in the betting and racing industry to formulate our response to the consultation.

“We are pleased to hear that the review will be evidence-based and we look forward to proposals that are proportionate and focused on those at risk. We know the Government is aware of the potential impact on related industries such as British racing and the 80,000 livelihoods it supports.

“The Minister, Nigel Huddleston, made clear in his address that the challenging conditions that sports find themselves in, and the importance of legitimate commercial relationships between sport and gambling, will be considered as part of the review.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust
British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Racing and betting’s unique, interdependent relationship has been recognised by Government in many ways, including through the Horserace Betting Levy. British racing has laid the groundwork for the gambling consultation with an industry group meeting for several months.

“Detailed submissions and representations were also made to the recent Lords Special Inquiry, which highlighted the ‘special position’ of racing and betting.”

Rust welcomed the announcement that the Government is to look again at the timetable for reviewing the Levy.

Rust added: “We welcome the announcement from the Minister that DCMS will examine in 2021 the timetable for reviewing the Levy. Racing industry leaders agreed that there was an urgent case for reform as part of our plans to recover from Covid-19 and have presented a united front to Government.

“As the Minister outlined in the House today, there are ongoing conversations between the BHA and Government on Levy reform. We look forward to working with DCMS officials and ministers in 2021 to ensure that the Levy is sustainable and fit for the digital age.”

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