Winning Post: Another twist in the tale for Brazil’s legislative journey…

Regulus Partners examines further political roadblocks in Brazil’s pot-holed journey towards market regulation. Meanwhile, back in Blighty, industry observers will tune-in to the Gambling-related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group’s one-off session on Children and Gambling.

Brazil: gambling regulation – waning

The last couple of weeks have produced two significant twists in Brazil’s gambling legislative journey. The first was a Supreme Court decision which decided that the sole federal authority over lotteries (and therefore probably by extension betting under the same legal structure) that was mandated in the ‘60s was (post facto) unconstitutional. Instead, each of the 26 states should have the power to legislate and organise lotteries.

The federal government can continue to offer licences, but if they face local competition then the attractiveness of these licences would be open to question (and it took long enough for Brazil to find scratchcard operators anyway). IGT and SG therefore perhaps felt they could dodge a bullet when the failure to reach an agreement with Caixa allowed them to walk away from the federal Lotex instants monopoly they had provisionally agreed to operate (on the basis of Caixa’s involvement as the key draw-based distributor is crucial).

The broader implications are not yet clear in terms of detail. However, there are two obvious and related points to draw (or rather reinforce). First, the path of legalised sports betting in Brazil is unlikely to be a smooth one, given the constitutional and commercial form as well as the specific implications of the ruling. While a dual licensing process is far less commercially damaging than in lottery (where scale and liquidity is nearly everything), its broader implications are likely to soak up a lot of time and effort to resolve, or just as likely put off efforts to do so.

Ironically, this may suit exposed operators more than the hype would suggest since the .com market has far fewer restrictions than the proposed licensing regime (see WPs passim). Second, the extent to which gambling stakeholders can hope for a logical approach based upon their own commercial needs, or even the best interests of customers, is nearly always overstated. Gambling law, policy and concessions usually sit uncomfortably bracketed by complex jurisdictional questions, self-interest, and power politics.

Any one of those drivers is usually far more important to decision makers than the financial, commercial or even (genuine) public health merits of a given gambling framework. Anyone expecting plain sailing for gambling reform anywhere has failed to learn this universal truth.

UK: In Parliament – Children, children, children…

This week, the politics of gambling largely took place behind closed doors as both the Betting and Gaming All Party Parliamentary Group and the Peers for Gambling Reform held private evidence sessions in preparation for the long-awaited Government review of gambling.

On Wednesday afternoon, fresh from appointing Laurence Robertson (Cons, Tewkesbury) as its new chair, the Betting and Gaming APPG ‘Zoomed’ with the gambling minister, Nigel Huddleston (Cons, Mid-Worcestershire). A day earlier, the Peers for Gambling Reform had interviewed Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones from the NHS about what a new Gambling Act might look like.

The Gambling-related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group swings into action next week when it will hold a one-off session on ‘Children and Gambling’. The cross-party parliamentarians will hear evidence from amusements trade association, bacta as well as from Professor Samantha Thomas (Deakin University, Australia) and Dr Philip Newall (Central Queensland University, Australia); and this combination could prove a volatile cocktail.

For a number of years, bacta enjoyed a close relationship with the GRH APPG (and its predecessor, the FOBT APPG) as a key funder; but next week’s session promises to be a less cosy affair.

Dr Newall recently co-authored a journal paper (heavily caveated) that claimed a high proportion of adults with gambling disorders recalled playing ‘Amusement With Prizes’ (now ‘Category D’) machines as children.

Gambling by minors on Category D (low stake, low prize) machines has long been the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of the amusements sector – and it seems unlikely that bacta and Dr Newall will see eye-to-eye.

Professor Thomas meanwhile has been virulent in her criticism of gambling industry involvement in regulatory policy formulation – and her views on this (as well no doubt as the old ‘normalisation’ chestnut) may cause some embarrassed shuffling of parliamentary posteriors when she realises who has been funding the set-up. As the Church of England found out this week, those who have sinned need to think quite carefully before casting the first rock.

The ‘Children and Gambling’ session is the first in a series of mini-inquiries (following the lengthy trials of FOBTs and online gambling). The Gamvisory Group (lived experience) has written to Carolyn Harris (Lab, Swansea East), the chair of the APPG to ask whether she will initiate a review of the Gambling Commission as part of this series.

Given that the regulator has been investigated (and found wanting) by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee this year, it might be prudent to allow it time for reform before facing another interrogation – but prudence often proves too dear for this debate.

The NHS seems to take a different view, with a senior figure tweeting support for a Harris-led review of the Gambling Commission; this just a few weeks after another senior executive used social media to indulge in vapid criticism of Public Health England’s work on gambling harms. This is hardly grown-up behaviour from those in positions of leadership.

Elsewhere, Ronnie Cowan (SNP, Inverclyde) – whose party has also learned a thing or two about hypocrisy in the last ten days – submitted a bunch of parliamentary questions on the timing and departmental leadership of the Government review (DCMS to “work closely” with Health and announcement “in due course”), the possibility of another longitudinal gambling survey and treatment seeking for gambling disorder within the NHS.

Meanwhile, Holly Lynch (Lab, Halifax) and Carolyn Harris touched on gambling concerns as part of a Commons debate on online harms (although the latter chose to focus on the sale of electrical goods rather than gambling).

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Article edited by SBC from Winning Post 09 October.

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