I-Gaming on Hold in the UK, But for How Long?

27 June 2003

The Interactive Gaming, Gambling and Betting Association (IGGBA) said last week at the Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo in Montreal that it will try to push sections of the U.K. gambling bill through Parliament if it begins to appear that the bill will be stalled.

The bill, which is the first update to the United Kingdom's gambling law since the 1960's, will considerably liberalize the government's regulation of gambling. It will also introduce rules to govern legalized Internet gambling in the country. Presently, fixed-odds betting is the only type of online gambling allowed in the United Kingdom, provided the operator is licensed and pays the 15 percent bookmaking tax.

"… We are looking at ways of splitting off the remote gambling part of the [gambling] bill to see if it could be introduced in this session."

- Andrew Tottenham

Andrew Tottenham, chairman of IGGBA, told a conference audience at GIGSE that the bill might not be passed as soon as many in the gaming industry would like to be. It will likely not even be mentioned in the Queen's speech in November.

The bill could be sidetracked for several reasons; among them, it's a very large bill that will require a lot of time and attention from Parliament. That's time the lawmakers may not have to give, because the sensitive issue of asylum in Britain may capture its focus in the near future.

Tottenham said the soonest anyone will know whether the bill will be taken up by Parliament is March 2004. That will be after a November 2003 meeting of the Parliamentary Scrutiny Committee, which consists of a cross-party group of MPs. The committee will hold a public hearing on the gambling bill, and the results of the hearing will be reported in March. Tottenham said it is his hope that during the hearing the bill will be streamlined to the point where it could be easily pushed through Parliament. If not that, at least, his group will lobby that the online gambling portion should be separated and on its own could be passed more quickly than the entire bill.

"The hope is that all the contentious bits will get knocked off and all the corners will be smoothed," Tottenham said.

Tottenham said IGGBA is putting together a paper that would make public the various tax benefits of reform. He said the association is trying to get numerous government ministries, including the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the Treasury Department, the Number 10 Policy Unit and Customs and Excise. If the ministries support the need for urgency in processing the bill, Tottenham said, the ruling party in government, the Labor party, will be more apt to deal with the bill quickly.

"There is a danger that there will not be any time for it, so we are looking at ways of splitting off the remote gambling part of the bill to see if it could be introduced in this session," he said.

Tottenham said the need for online gambling legislation is crucial because it is the only subsection of gambling in the United Kingdom that is totally untouched by law.

"If you look at the gaming industry, there is existing legislation for casinos, there is existing legislation for betting offices that works OK. ... The only area where no legislation exists is online and remote gambling, so that is the difficulty, and it urgently needs reviewing," he said.

Related Links
Global Interactive Gaming Summit & Expo (GIGSE) 2003

Anne Lindner can be reached at anne@rivercitygroup.com.