Budd revisited: Gambling in Great Britain 15 years on

Abstract

In 2000, Sir Alan Budd, the noted economist was asked by the British Government to chair a review of the nation’s gambling laws. The resulting ‘The Report of the Gambling Review Body’ (referred to here as ‘The Budd Report’ or ‘Budd’) was published a year later and provided a blueprint for how gaming and betting would subsequently be regulated under a major new piece of legislation - the Gambling Act 2005 (the ‘2005 Act’ or the ‘Gambling Act’).

The work of the Gambling Review Body (the ‘Review Body’) was undertaken at considerable expense and effort – more than 200 submissions were evaluated, 20 evidence gathering sessions were held, a number of overseas jurisdictions were visited. In the end, a 201-page report was produced. The Review Body’s 176 recommendations for how gambling ought to be regulated were based upon a set of explicitly stated policy objectives designed to further the interests of the British consumer - balancing extended choice with enhanced protections.

It was the last time that gambling was subjected to such intense scrutiny in Great Britain; the last time that such a wide variety of regulatory options were weighed with such consideration. It is to be lamented that in the 15 years since the publication of the Budd Report – a period of profound change in the British gambling market – there has been no systematic attempt to assess whether the ambitions of the Review Body have been achieved.

The aim of this essay is to do precisely that – to examine how gambling in Great Britain has developed through the prism of Budd’s aspirations. There are two key challenges to this task. First, neither the Review Body nor the British Government set out a clear framework for measuring policy effectiveness (in terms of maximizing benefits and minimizing costs). Second, there are significant gaps in data publicly available to researchers – particularly in the period prior to full implementation of the Gambling
Act. Where information is unavailable, certain assumptions and estimates are required to assess effects.

While the reforms recommended by Budd have had largely positive effects, there have been two major drawbacks to post-Budd gambling policy in Britain that may offer lessons for the future. First, the failure to create an evaluation framework and review process seems likely over time to result in the detachment of policy from objectives. Second, in licensing new forms of gambling, it is critical to consider the impact on the existing industry. Restraining gambling venues within anachronistic licensing constructs while at the same time unshackling remote gambling can create regulatory imbalance – and the consequences of this may not be uniformly positive.

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