DCMS Release Draft Version of Gambling Bil

19 November 2003

The much anticipated draft version of the new Gambling Bill for Great Britain was released today, but the bill contains little substance for the interactive gaming industry.

Only two sections of the 141-page bill pertain directly to the industry, and most areas of gambling law that would be reformed will be left up to a Gambling Commission.

Officials with the Division of Culture, Media and Sport released the draft bill in conjunction with the Business in Sport and Leisure annual conference in London. DCMS Secretary Tessa Jowell spoke to those at the conference and addressed the media as well.

While the draft version doesn't answer many of the questions regarding interactive gambling, it does have major provisions for other parts of the gambling industry.

The bill has provisions for protecting children and problem gamblers from accessing the industry and would create a powerful Gambling Commission, which would oversee many aspects of the industry. The bill also would create strict suitability tests for all commercial gambling operators and enforce controls on access by children to places where gambling takes place, especially gaming machines.

One of the most significant steps in the bill is the proposed creation of a gambling trust that would be used to support problem gambling prevention and treatment programs. The trust fund would initially be set up with £3 million and the government would have powers to compel licensed operators to put additional funding into the trust.

In her address at the conference Jowell expressed the overdue need for crafting new gambling legislation.

"Our gambling laws date back to the 1960s," she said. "Since then attitudes to gambling have changed and the law has failed to keep pace with rapid technological change. Gambling is now a diverse, vibrant and innovative industry and a popular leisure activity enjoyed in many forms by millions of people. The law needs to reflect that."

The two main sections of the draft bill that deal with interactive gambling are section 31 and section 70.

Clause 31 of the draft bill makes it an offense for a licensed operator, either a remote or non-remote, to invite or enable a person in a prohibited territory to participate in remote gambling.

The wording in the clause is strikingly similar to that used in Australia's Internet Gambling Act.

In clause 70 of the draft bill the DCMS defines rules for "remote operating licenses."

Remote gambling is defined in Part 2 of the draft bill as any gambling in which persons participate in using a phone, the Internet, television, radio, or other kind of electronic or other technology for facilitating communication.

Although the announcement of the draft bill was met with great anticipation about what lies ahead for the gambling industry in the UK, Jowell said any progress should be balanced with social considerations.

"We must make sure crime is kept out and that gambling is conducted in ways that are fair to the consumer," she said. "In particular, we must take the strongest steps to protect children and vulnerable adults from being harmed or exploited by gambling. I believe this Bill does that."

A Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament will now scrutinize the draft Bill. This scrutiny process will improve the draft legislation and build parliamentary understanding and public confidence in the proposals.

The remaining sections of the draft Bill will be published early next year. It is assumed that those sections will include more detail on remote gambling. The final Bill will then be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time becomes available.

Jowell told attendees at the conference that she feels the gambling industry is not something to be ashamed of. She also promised the industry that if reform is handled in the correct manner more de-regulation could come to the industry.

Jowell said the primary concern of de-regulation was to walk the tightrope between fiscal gain and the protection of children and the vulnerable.

Jowell said the DCMS learned the lessons of de-regulation from other developed countries and that Australian-style pokies will never be given the green light in the UK. Gambling, instead, would need to be a positive choice for the punter.

Other key sections of the bill that aren't directly related to the interactive gaming industry would do away with restrictions on where casinos can be set up, and membership of a gaming or bingo hall at least 24 hours before playing will no longer be required.

This could bring Las Vegas-styled casino complexes to Great Britain for the first time.

Critics of the bill say the new laws could encourage casinos springing up on every street corner. But to avoid the creation of lots of smaller gambling halls, ministers have proposed that new casinos be subject to a minimum size.

To read a full copy of the draft bill click here.