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The Current Legislative Position and The Gambling Review

(i) Overview of the Current Legislative Position and Introduction to the Gambling Review.

The current gambling legislation is contained in several different statutes. The most important ones being the Gaming Act 1845, the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 and the Gaming Act 1968. The Government felt that the law was in need of reform and had to be brought up to date. 

In the words of Tessa Jowell the Secretary of State for the Department for Culture Media and Sport, “the modernisation of our gambling laws is long overdue.” In 2000 the Government appointed Sir Alan Budd to conduct a review of the legislation on gambling in the UK. This was completed in 2001 and the Government produced their response in 2002. 

The Gambling Review Body made 176 recommendations; some of the more significant and relevant ones will be looked at in this study.
The key objectives of gambling law and regulation, set out in the review body’s report and endorsed by the Government, are:

  • Gambling should be crime free, honest and conducted in accordance with regulation
  • Players should know what to expect and be confident that they will get it and not be exploited
  • There should be adequate protection for children and vulnerable persons.

These key objectives will be kept in mind when looking at the proposals the Government has put forward and whilst looking at some areas where the Government may have overlooked them.

The main proposal is to streamline the legislation and consolidate it into a single Act of Parliament covering all categories of gambling activity, except the National Lottery Acts. The Government feels that the current statutes are a mess, “repeated piecemeal amendment of the law relating to gambling has been an unwelcome feature of the deregulation procedure.” 

The aim is to create a new, simple to understand statute that is up to date but which is also flexible to meet changes in the industry. The Gambling Commission will be set up to act as the statutory regulator and will be responsible for the licensing and regulating of all forms of Gambling from casinos, bookmakers and betting exchanges to all other forms of commercial gambling. 

The Government feels that “in the interests of fairness and efficiency there is… a need to bring all operators of commercial gambling within a single system of licensing and regulation” except spread betting. Spread betting is regulated by the Financial Services Authority, but this will be reviewed once the Gambling Commission has been established and begun its work. Spread betting will be looked at later when we discuss the control of clients assets held by bookmakers.


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(ii) Gambling Debts to Become Legally Enforceable.

A key recommendation of the Governments report is to make all gambling debts legally enforceable. This move will change the position that has been in place for over 150 years, s.18 of the Gaming Act 1845 states “All contracts or agreements, whether by parole [verbal] or in writing, by way of gaming or wagering, shall be null and void; and no suit shall be brought or maintained in any court of law or equity for recovering any sum of money or valuable thing alleged to be won upon any wager…” 

The rationale for this rule is that the courts do not have time to lend themselves to trivial matters such as gambling disputes. “However laudable the sport may be, we have far more serious matters to attend to” was how LP Boyle put it in 1848. 

The Government feels that the provision in the 1845 Act is open to abuse and exploitation. This is very true, as anyone in the business of accepting wagers from the public could refuse to settle bets that have been struck because the contracts are not legally enforceable. 

This would obviously damage their reputation and no one would wager with them again, but it would leave many punters out of pocket. The new provision will work both ways, punters will be able to have recourse to the courts to obtain payment and gambling operators will be able to sue punters who owe money. 

This provision really only favors the punter, as a bookmaker will very rarely allow you to bet on credit. Since the 1845 Act was brought into force bookmakers insisted on receiving cash in advance from punters and it will be very unlikely that they will put 150 years of good business practice out the window because of this new proposal. 

In fact many bookmakers have opposed this change to the law. Channel 4 racing pundit John McCririck has expressed his support to the changes, “I’ve always believed that the betting industry should be subject to the same safeguards and responsibilities as other industries” he goes on to say that “It has always amazed me that the bookmaking industry has always opposed it.”


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