The British gambling industry is set to experience a shake-up over the next 12 months, with the Department of Culture, Media and Sports finally releasing its long-awaited white paper on proposed gambling reforms in the country.

The gambling white paper has been in the making since the end of 2020, and has been delayed on at least four occasions, but it was finally released by the DCMS in April 2023.

The proposals in the white paper are far from final, and will be subject to further discussions through the next one year, with final implementation expected in the summer of 2024.

The DCMS white paper highlights a wide range of controversial gambling issues, including the promotion of “free bets” by sports betting operators.

The “Free Bets” and “Risk-Free Bets” terminologies have generally been a hot topic in the betting world in recent times, with US authorities issuing a directive to operators to stop promoting their bonuses as free bets from July 2023.

US sportsbooks have had to resort to alternate terminologies like bonus bets and second chance bets to avoid falling foul of the law.

The argument from the Americans is that “free bets” are not actually free since customers would still have to stake their money in order to get the bonus.

Will Great Britain follow the US in outlawing the use of “free bets” in betting promotions?

In the lead up to the publication of the white paper, anti-gambling campaigners had asked the government to consider banning “free bets”, but the Betting and Gaming Council, led by chief executive, Michael Dugher vehemently kicked against this suggestion, arguing that banning “free bets” would drive customers to the unregulated betting market. Unsurprisingly, the majority of UK punters are also against the proposal.

“Promotions and offers are part of the customer experience for any vibrant industry, including our intensely competitive sector, which supports 119,000 jobs and brings in £4.4bn in taxes to the treasury,” Dugher said in June 2022.

“A draconian ban would damage a sector which tens of thousands rely on for their livelihoods, by turning punters away from the regulated industry into the arms of unsafe, unregulated black market gambling, where the numbers using such sites has doubled in recent years and the amount bet is in the billions”, Dugher protested.

There have been subsequent back-and-forth between pro and anti-free bets schools of thoughts, and that will continue following the release of the white paper.

So what does the white paper say about “free bets”?

“It (The Gambling Commission) will now take forward work to review the design and targeting of incentives such as free bets and bonuses to ensure there are clear rules and fair limits on re-wagering requirements and time limits so they do not encourage excessive or harmful gambling”, the paper says.

While this does not explicitly say that “Free Bets” will be banned, it does suggest that there would be big measures to regulate how betting bonuses are promoted. Essentially, the authorities want the bonuses to be advertised in a less deceptive way.

Far too often do we see betting companies paste big bonuses on their pages and on TV screens without revealing the terms and conditions or wagering requirements behind the bonus.

The problem with “free bets” promotions is not necessarily the terminology, but the lack of transparency on how the promo actually works. In some cases, customers may have to wager up to 10 times the “free bet” amount before they are able to claim the “free bet”. Many unsuspecting customers do not realize this until they get to the point of claiming the “free bets”.

The UK doesn’t necessarily have to go the American way by banning “free bets”, but the government does need to enforce clarity and transparency in the advertisement of betting bonuses.