On the day when most of the UK's news has been dominated by Alex Ferguson's retirement, the Queen towards the end of her speech in Parliament today referenced the Gambling (licensing and advertising) Bill. For those not acquainted with the curious workings of UK Government, the Queen's speech sets out the governmental agenda for the coming year, albeit it is presented to the whole House of Commons and House of Lords.

 

On Friday we also posted the UK Government's report in connection with proposed gambling bill which seeks to reverse a policy set in statutory stone in 2005, namely to permit online operators in Europe and in white listed jurisdictions to target the UK market.

 

Whilst this U-Turn is a huge disappointment, that report, plus the reference in the Queen's speech, nevertheless confirms that the bill's passage is now a juggernaut and unlikely to grind to a halt. The Culture Media and Sports Committee has brushed aside the concerns about TFEU compatibility without addressing why the liberal provisions were included in the first place (i.e. to ensure our online gambling licensing regime was TFEU compliant).

 

There is no evidence put forward that any social harm is caused to UK consumers by the access they have to offshore sites. Quite how the UK Gambling Commission can suggest (as they did in giving evidence to the committee) it has no knowledge of what happens in practice under the various licensing regimes begs the obvious rejoinder - why didn't it ask the question? Our experience is that there is a high degree of co-operation and candour between regulators so fears about UK consumers could quickly be assuaged.

 

Also the other fatal flaw in logic is the fact that the "white listed" countries have had their regulatory regimes scrutinised already as part of that process; proving consumer safe guards was a key element of that approval.

 

The truth of it is that no one involved in or affected by the process can afford to be complacent. The UK government shouldn't assume that the margin of discretion allowed, say, to Spain or France will be the same in the UK where there is a controlled closing. Likewise in some quarters in the industry, there is a resignment akin to a stoic expectation of a wet British summer. The challenge is never likely to be successful if the industry has already thrown in the towel.

 

We can only hope that the British courts eventually get to review in a properly objective way and some rounded arguments are put forward, as the loudest of the factions seem incapable of suppressing self-interest. None of this noise can disguise the fact the Government's aims are primarily, if not entirely, fiscal (both in licensing fees and tax) but that to successfully defeat any reverse in policy needs well-honed arguments and the speedy education of a court in relation to quite complex points of gambling and European law.

Posted by Ashley Averill on Wednesday 08 May 2013