The heads of three UK-based gambling companies (Bet365, Entain and Flutter) reveal the minutes of a private meeting held in October 2021, between them and the UK tax authorities. Unhappy that the three operators disclosed what was said at the meeting, the authorities consider it a hypocritical move. For their part, the three companies want to use lobbying to defend their business, which is threatened by the future law that will succeed the 2005 law on gambling. This future law should normally come into force at the end of 2020.
Lobbying to oppose the future gambling law
Following a private meeting (held in October 2021) between the heads of three of the largest UK-based gambling companies, the companies decided to release the minutes of the meeting. The stakeholders included representatives of the three gambling companies (Bet365, Entain and Flutter) and members of the UK tax authorities represented by specialists from HM Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs. As originally planned, this meeting was to be kept secret. This is why the tax authorities considered it a hypocritical move. However, according to the results of the reports by journalists who were directly interested in the subject, the hypocrisy was aimed at opposing the entry into force of the future gambling law. According to the government’s original plan, it should come into force at the end of 2020.
The journalists’ discovery of this private meeting echoes what the group made up of the UK’s big three gambling operators reveals is that they are lobbying Treasury officials because they oppose the proposed crackdown on gambling in the future legislation. Even if their actions are unreasonable, given that reform is imminent, it was only right to make this kind of move to defend their industry.
Lobbying is a practice carried out in the UK to protect stakeholders in a particular industry. Usually, after such a practice, the government ends up taking up the issue and disclosing the information, making it public. However, in this case, the operators approached the tax authorities to try to make their voices heard later.
According to the representatives of the three operators, a dialogue must now be scheduled that will bring together the tax authorities and other experts in the sector so that real ideas and proposals can be made for the development of the sector.
At the meeting, the Entain representative did not hesitate to point out that his company is among the top 20 taxpaying companies in the country and that Bet365 is one of the biggest taxpayers in the country. Regarding Flutter, its spokesperson revealed that the company paid over £600 million in tax in 2021.
No to more rigid regulation
The three gambling operators’ real desire is to protect the gambling industry from the content of a rigid law, a law that leaves no choice to players and no choice to casino operators and the like.
Indeed, based on a study commissioned by these three stakeholders, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the increase in violations of the 2005 Gambling Act is partly due to the rigidity of the text. For example, there are several unlicensed platforms, hidden vulnerable players, unorthodox behaviour in the sector, etc. All these elements support the concern of the three operators. They believe that this change in the behaviour of players or game providers can be validly explained by the fact that the law does not allow the players in the field to do their business better. They therefore believe that by opposing the law in this way, their voice would probably be heard in the UK Parliament and the rules regarding, for example, advertising bans, mandatory honesty checks and bans on VIP programmes would be watered down.
During the meeting, operators also made it clear that this rigidity and over-zealous change may be costing the country dearly. In terms of estimated tax loss, £3.2 billion may try to evaporate if things continue to go this way.
These industry advocates believe that unbalanced legislation will cause more damage than good. When players want to gamble in casinos or gambling halls, for example, they will certainly go to black market suppliers as usual.
Clean Up Gambling, a saving grace?
Among the movements defending the gambling sector, journalists cite a group called Clean Up Gambling.
According to Matt Zarb-Cousin, the group’s leader, the lobbying campaign led by his team has a life-saving philosophy. All members of the group and industry operators are trying to derail major changes that are likely to negatively transform the regulated gambling world. Zarb-Cousin also says that these activities carried out by his team are a form of massive propaganda to fight against the behaviour of less serious gambling operators who have been practising tax evasion for years.
What about the fight against gambling malpractice?
According to a survey conducted by the National Health Service (NHS) in 2018, 245,000 British citizens were exposed to gambling-related problems (addiction, dependence, etc.). In 2021, a report by Public Health England revealed that approximately 409 people commit suicide each year due to gambling addiction.
As the 2005 regulations are still old to solve the current problems, the pressure from campaigners and industry support services is to come up with solutions as soon as possible.
Assuming that some of the elements can be found in a white paper, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is planning to publish a document within a few weeks. While all parties involved are holding their breath in the hope of serious change, this white paper may attempt to put an end to speculation when the final version of the document is put together by DCMS.