| It is
understood the PM and top adviser Dominic Cummings both want
Downing Street has taken control
of the upcoming review of gambling legislation, due to be launched within
weeks, amid a growing appetite for sweeping reform of the industry from Boris
Johnson and his closest advisers.
The Department of Digital, Culture,
Media and Sport (DCMS) is expected to kick off the long-awaited review this
autumn but well-placed sources said Boris Johnson and his closest advisers were
now steering the plans.
The PM just sees it as people being
exploited and its not him, said one MP with intimate knowledge of
discussions within Whitehall.
The Guardian understands that
Johnsons closest adviser Dominic Cummings and Munira Mirza
director of the No10 policy unit have both taken a personal interest in
a push to overhaul the 2005 Gambling Act.
The legislation, introduced
under Tony Blair, liberalised regulation of the sector, giving the UK some of
the most relaxed gambling laws among major economies.
Downing Street are understood to be pushing for a wide-ranging review that
could involve rolling back large sections of the act, including potential new
curbs on advertising.
Some advocates of reform within government are
concerned that the DCMS is conflicted over advertising due to the financial
contributions gambling makes to both sports teams and broadcasters who have the
ear of DCMS officials.
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston is thought to
be keen on a wide-ranging review but speaking in the House of Lords last week,
another DCMS minister, Lady Barran, appeared sceptical about the dangers of
I cannot be specific on the scope of the review, but
the evidence is not clear about the link between advertising and problem
gambling, particularly among young people, she said.
One MP with
knowledge of DCMS said: Like any organisation, departments become quite
linked in to these industries [such as sport and broadcasting]
werent that keen on changing tobacco advertising back in the day but it
A DCMS official denied there was any lack of enthusiasm
for tackling advertising and insisted the department was working with No 10,
rather than being directed by it.
Campaigners for gambling reform have
emerged from across the political spectrum, coalescing around the all-party
parliamentary group (APPG) on gambling harm led by Labour MP Carolyn Harris,
former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and the SNPs Ronnie Cowan.
The cross-party momentum has also spilled over into the House of Lords,
with the foundation this weekend of a group called the Peers for Gambling
Reform. The group of more than 150 peers has demanded urgent action
based on the findings of a Lords select committee report published earlier this
Chaired by Lord Foster of Bath, the group wants measures such as
strict affordability checks on gamblers and a duty of care on firms to prevent
harm, potentially exposing them to legal consequences where they fail to
protect vulnerable people.
The group wants to see stake limits and
restrictions on the speed at which online casino games can be played, as well
as a testing regime to measure the risks attached to new gambling products.
Given that we have a third of a million problem gamblers,
including 55,000 children, and one gambling-related suicide every day, action
is urgently needed, said Lord Foster.
companies have cashed in on the pandemic, making more profit and putting more
lives at risk. He said the group had been set up to ensure urgent action
is taken by the government to reform our wholly outdated regulation.
While campaigners for reform have been assembling a powerful and
determined political group, the gambling industry has also mustered a strong
The Betting & Gaming Council is chaired by
veteran lobbyist Brigid Simmonds, while its chief executive, Michael Dugher, is
a former Labour MP.
Dughers close personal friend, former Labour
deputy leader Tom Watson, was last week revealed to have joined the
worlds largest online gambling company, Flutter Entertainment, as an
adviser on problem gambling.
During his time in parliament, Watson was
a virulent campaigner for reform and previously described the companys
actions as dirty and money-grabbing after it took bets
on the murder trial of former athlete Oscar Pistorius.