Keeping the Wolf from the Door: Reducing the Black Market

England and Wales

Ever since the Review of the Gambling Act 2005 commenced (and for some time before), the gambling industry has raised the spectre that enhanced measures to identify and protect those at risk from gambling harm will only serve to drive players to the black market.  The Gambling Commission initially seemed to regard the industry as crying wolf but, perhaps mindful that the boy in the parable was eventually eaten by the wolf, has started to take the industry’s pleas more seriously. 

In a speech delivered at a Westminster Media Forum on 13th May, the Commission’s Chief Executive, Andrew Rhodes, outlined the action the Commission has been taking to tackle illegal online gambling, stating that:

  • “in January 2024 we issued 98 cease and desist and disruption notices with 39 successful disruption outcomes
  • in the last six months we have referred over 7,000 website URLs to Google resulting in them being removed from search results
  • in 2023 the Commission issued 452 cease and desist and disruption notices. This includes 291 cease and desists notices to illegal websites and 161 referred to Facebook for closure, resulting in 212 instances where supply was disrupted (79 online websites and 133 Facebook closures) 
  • since 2022 we have increased our enforcement activity by over 500%. From 89 in 2021 to 2022 and 452 in 2022 to 2023
  • we have more than trebled the number of successful positive illegal website disruption outcomes – from 25 in 2021 to 2022 to 79 in 2022 to 2023.”

At the same conference, the Director of Sport and Gambling at DCMS discussed the steps the Department had taken in conjunction with the Commission and said (using a different animal metaphor) that “there are times [it] becomes a bit of a whack-a-mole….I think we all recognise the black market isn’t going to go away totally.  It is definitely something that we will continue to closely monitor.” 

A key additional weapon in the Commission’s armoury would be provided by Schedule 3 of the Criminal Justice Bill, which is currently before Parliament.  If enacted, this would give the Commission power to apply to Court for an order to suspend IP addresses or domain names where there are reasonable grounds to believe that they are being used for the purposes of serious crime connected with unlicensed gambling.

However, with an impending General Election, there is no guarantee that this Bill will find its way into legislation – particularly as it contains a number of controversial proposals outside the sphere of gambling.