The U.K. government's response to the recent House of
Commons Select Committee report on gambling provided the industry with another useful pointer to the views of the U.K. executive on the issue of gambling reform.
The government has shown a welcome flexibility in its approach to liberalizing the United Kingdom's gaming industry and ensuring it becomes one of the most successful and socially responsible in the world. This document emphasizes this still further. The government understands the need to ensure whatever regulatory and licensing settlement is finally agreed, it should be sufficiently liberal to enable the industry to prosper.
From the perspective of the online gaming industry, however, there was little in there of substance--not that this was expected, given the limited attention given to the industry in the original Commons report.
Where the industry did get a mention, though, on the issue of the process through which the regulatory framework for online gambling will be created, it was useful to read in published form the government's continuing intention to maintain an open dialogue with stakeholders, including within the industry, with a view to drawing up workable regulatory proposals.
The Interactive Gaming, Gambling and Betting Association (iGGBA) is involved centrally in this process, as a representative and authoritative I-Gaming trade association in the United Kingdom. We have established excellent working links with DCMS and the regulatory bodies, through the credibility of our organization and now work closely with all the various social responsibility stakeholder groups and organizations.
In this regard, the government is confident that, through iGGBA, it is talking to the group of businesses which stand to be affected most directly by the new regulatory structure.
In terms of enabling the government to take forward its proposals, via open and transparent dialogue, the relationship among government departments, industry groups and other representative organizations, it is essential that the latter two groups create and maintain excellent bilateral relations so that they can generate workable and mutually supportable proposals that satisfy both industry and social responsibility protagonists.
These can then be presented jointly to the government, which is then far less likely to impose on the industry any preconceived ideas of its own. iGGBA plays a pivotal role in drawing together the interests of both commercial and non-commercial
organizations so that a workable synthesis of ides across a broad range of issues can be created.
Aside from this specific issue, there are other points in the response that provide useful intelligence on the government's commitment to creating a strong but well regulated and socially responsible gambling industry in the United Kingdom. iGGBA welcomes the maintenance of the government's opposition to a statutory industry levy to raise funds for social responsibility organizations, including Gamcare. This reflects an acknowledgement that the industry is already heavily committed to its own substantial voluntary program of financial support. All iGGBA members recognize the importance of ensuring the support available to problem gamblers is sustained, accessible and professional--and well funded.
It was also encouraging to note that the government confirmed central funding would be available for research programs into problem gambling via the NHS Frameworks for Mental health.
The government's comments of the new gambling industry licensing regime are also interesting, although they are aimed principally at bricks- and-mortar operations. The government is maintaining its focus on operating companies, in terms of making sure they adhere to licensing requirements, rather than at the playing end.
As far as I-gaming is concerned, this approach serves only to remind companies of their responsibilities as operators of gambling sites.
The sections dealing with children and gambling serve to emphasize the special position and responsibility held by online gaming companies, compared with their offline counterparts. Whereas the government sees no case for a total ban on children being allowed access to low-level gambling--for example, Category D gaming machines--the nature of online gaming means that customers are "guilty until proven innocent" in terms of their age verification. Whereas offline gaming operators can normally see for themselves how old a player is, I-Gaming operators cannot. Hence, iGGAB members adopt the precautionary principle in all our dealings with their customers.
The government's response is another important milestone in the process through which the U.K. gaming industry will achieve a tough but fair regulatory environment within which it can thrive and prosper into the 21st century.
Wes Himes is the director of the Interactive Gaming, Gambling and Betting Association
(iGGBA). Through his government relations company, Policy Action Limited (PAL), Wes works with various new media/entertainment associations in Europe. He is a director of the European Digital Media Association (EDiMA) and part of the Secretariat managing the Global Entertainment Retail Alliance - Europe (GERA). Prior to this he worked as an aide to a member of the European Parliament in Brussels and as director of state development for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Washington D.C. He has a BA from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Kathiolieke University in Brussels.