Last week, the Government published its Terms of Reference and Call for Evidence on its Review of the Gambling Act 2005. The 25-page document details the aims and objectives of the review, including details on how to respond. If you are considering responding to the call for evidence, below are answers to some of the key procedural questions you may have.
How can I respond to the call for evidence?
Responses should be sent by email to email@example.com and be provided in a Word or PDF document. Whilst the call for evidence includes 45 questions, it is not necessary to respond to all questions. In fact, respondents are encouraged to answer only those questions for which they have particular experience, expertise or evidence. Where possible, specific evidence or dates should be provided to support responses.
If you are of the view that the evidence called for does not exist, that more time is needed to collate it and/or that specific research would be needed in order to gather the necessary data, then you should say so in your response. In those circumstances it is important to do what data collection, research and/or analysis that you can and then explain what further evidence is needed, why it is missing, what steps need to be taken to obtain it (if possible) and why the data in question is so important.
Will my response make a difference?
In order to ensure that any subsequent legal or regulatory developments are based on, and driven by, empirical evidence, it is important that the Government is able to consider a well-balanced response, with evidence from multiple parties with varied interests.
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), the industry association representing approximately 90% of the non-lottery gambling industry in the UK, is mindful of this, having previously called for the review to be "wide-ranging and evidence-led". The BGC will, of course, respond and provide evidence on behalf of its members (including retail betting shops, online betting and gambling operators, casino and bingo operators) and its response will form an integral part of the process. However, it is also imperative that Government hears from individual stakeholders with differing interests or groups of stakeholders with similar interests. As set out below, this consultation invites responses from operators and stakeholders across a number of sectors and it is, in our view, critical that each is heard.
Is the call for evidence only relevant to gambling operators?
No. The Government welcomes evidence from all parties with an interest in the way that gambling is regulated in Great Britain, including international evidence (for example, from overseas regulators). The Government's consultation calls for evidence in relation to six key areas: online protections (players and products), advertising, sponsorship and branding, the Gambling Commission's powers and resources, consumer redress, age limits and verification and land based gambling. Stakeholders with interests in each of these areas are encouraged to respond including broadcasters, sports clubs, event venues and marketing affiliates.
Will my response be publicly available?
Yes, unless you notify the Government otherwise, although even then the Government will not be able to provide a total guarantee of confidentiality.
The Government consultation principles (which were introduced in 2012 as part of a push to increase transparency and improve engagement) state that consultations should facilitate scrutiny. The principles state that responses to consultations should be published on the same page of the Government website as the original consultation or call for evidence. The Government's response should also identify the number of responses it has received and explain how they have informed any resulting policy changes.
The call for evidence does invite participants to say whether they want their response to remain confidential for commercial or other reasons, but the existence of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act) means that it is possible that requests for copies of responses might be made, and we note that the Government does not provide a guarantee of confidentiality (indeed, it couldn’t do so anyway, as, under the FOI Act, a court could ultimately order disclosure). Nonetheless, responses marked as confidential are likely to be treated as such, at least until an FOI request is received, and even then, we would not expect the Government to disclose them without considerable resistance.
When is the deadline for responding and is it likely that it will be extended?
The Government has given 16 weeks to respond, with a deadline for providing responses by 31 March 2021. The Government consultation principles state that consultations should last for a proportionate amount of time. The length of time given should be judged on the basis of legal advice and should take into account the nature and impact of the proposal. Consulting for too long will unnecessarily delay policy development. In contrast, consulting too quickly will not give enough time for consideration and will reduce the quality of responses.
Previous calls for evidence in relation to the development of gambling regulation in Great Britain have provided various response times; ranging from 1 month to 12 weeks. It therefore seems unlikely that the Government will extend the deadline, unless unforeseen circumstances necessitate it.
What are the next steps once I provide my response?
Following the end of the call for evidence period, the Government will review the responses it has received alongside any other relevant data. Where stakeholders hold pertinent evidence they may be contacted after submitting their response.
The Government's response to the call for evidence should be published in a timely manner, ideally within 12 weeks of the closing date (i.e. by 23 June 2021). If this is not possible, an explanation should be provided outlining the reasons why.
Once the Government has reviewed the responses, it will set out its response, most likely in the form of a white paper (as indicated in the call for evidence), which sets out the Government's conclusions and outlines any proposals which will appear in draft legislation, known as a Bill. The white paper may provide a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected parties to allow for any final changes to be made before a draft Bill is formally presented to Parliament. Alternatively it may include a draft version of the Bill if the Government does not consider further consultation to be necessary.
Appropriate time should be allowed between closing the consultation and implementing any policy or legislation.
If you have any questions or you would like to discuss any of the above with us, please contact your usual member of the Betting & Gaming or Politics & Law group.