George McGregor’s first 100-days

George McGregor renewed his association with Bacta at the beginning of 2024 two decades after his introduction to the industry which began ahead of the 2005 Gambling Act. The Executive Director Government Relations, Regulatory Affairs & Communications has enjoyed a successful career working in government relations, most recently as Managing Partner of Interel, one of the UK’s largest public affairs consultancies. Before that he served as Special Adviser to a Cabinet member in the last Labour Government.  100-days into his role George provides a candid health assessment of the trade association, identifies the challenges it faces and provides some insight on the circumstances which could lead to an early General Election and the impact that would have on the White Paper. 

You renewed your association with the industry on 3 January having previously worked on Bacta’s successful FOBT campaign: what changes have you noted and how do you think the new Bacta is equipped to face the challenges that lie ahead?

As an external adviser, I’ve worked with Bacta for two decades in the run up to the 2005 Gambling Act. I then worked to achieve stake and prize uplifts for category C and B3 machines. And latterly, I spent five years working on the successful campaign to get a FOBT stake reduction. So, I know the association well and much has changed over the past 20 years. Bacta is a transformed organisation. It is leaner, more highly regarded and more professional in its campaigning and communications. Of course, we can do better and we face challenges in the future. But I have never been more optimistic about the prospects for the association and the sector.  

What do you think Bacta is good at and where can it improve?

Bacta’s huge strength is its membership. The association is avowedly a member-led organisation with members taking every key decision. I am determined to respect that tradition. I also hugely admire what a broad church Bacta is, from the smallest one-person operation to the large multi-national groups working together as equals to decide on issues affecting us all. In terms of improvement, Bacta could do more to represent the breadth of people that work in the sector. I’d like to hear more from the young people and women who work in the industry. That is why I was so pleased to be part of the inaugural meeting of the Bacta Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) last month.

Drawing on your extensive political experience when do you believe that the Government will call the General Election?

Predicting the future is a mug’s game. But if I was to make an educated guess the most likely election dates are 14 or 21 November after the Party Conferences. The one qualification I’d make is that the Prime Minister’s position is precarious; with the Conservatives doing so badly in the opinion polls there is an outside chance of his removal after the May local elections. That could bring forward the election date with a new PM cutting and running.

Would a summer election derail the White Paper proposals as many in the industry fear?

It would delay rather than derail. I am hoping that Parliament will get the chance to pass the necessary Statutory Instruments (SIs) before its summer recess on 23 July. This would then green light the White Paper changes. If an election is held before then the SIs would fall. We would then be relying on a potential future Labour Government to pick up the baton and make any changes. This is a risky scenario for us. The one solace is that the Conservative and Labour front benches are both broadly aligned on the need for the White Paper reforms meaning all will not be lost if there is an early election.

What are the potential big wins from the White Paper?

There are two potential big wins: an end to the antiquated 80/20 rule which will help AGCs and Bingo and the introduction of cashless play which will especially help pubs. An announcement from the Gambling Minister is imminent and we are told it will be made in ‘weeks’ so watch this space. Of course, the White Paper does not give us a stake and prize review. This is a key priority for Bacta and the National Council. The Government has said it will consider this issue ‘after the summer’. This is as important to Bacta as the White Paper.

Bacta members have worked hard to build a culture of safer gambling within their businesses: do you think a Statutory Levy in effect replaces a culture with a tax and as a consequence, risks unravelling all of the positive work that’s been done?

I think it is a real shame that the levy will imperil the important work of many gambling related charities. Action needs to be taken to avoid this happening.

How concerned should Bacta members be about the methodology being applied to the Gambling Survey for Great Britain – many Coinslot readers believe it’s a case of deploying a different methodology simply to arrive at the outcomes required. Has Bacta engaged with the Commission on this and what’s been the response?

I too am concerned that the new methodology is technically flawed; and that this could result in skewed results and the stoking up of anti-gambling sentiment in the media. I made these representations to Andrew Rhodes, the Gambling Commission CEO, when Bacta met him recently. Andrew has spoken publicly of the need to ensure that the results are fully explained when they are released to the media, which is welcome.

You are extremely well connected with the Labour Party a fact which has been manifest in Bacta’s political engagement programme following your appointment: but doesn’t Labour have a philosophical problem with our industry and what can be done to address that disconnect?

I think Labour will take a pragmatic rather than a philosophical approach to our sector. When I met recently with Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary, she made clear that a future Labour Government did not want to interfere in the fun derived by millions of people who gambled each week. She also said she wanted to ensure responsible gambling and we have always been committed to this.

The Bacta Business Census is a major initiative – how will the information be used and how important is it for members to complete the surveys?

The Census is a critical piece of work. The more accurate our understanding of the Bacta footprint then the more effective we will be in our discussions with Government and the Gambling Commission. I would urge all members to complete the survey. It is not too late. Please contact Theresa Risby in the Bacta office for further details. 

The industry has many different business sectors, what’s Bacta’s agenda in terms of music, pool and kiddie rides, for example?

We certainly are. All are important parts of the wider Bacta family. One key priority in my first few months has been music and we are in detailed negotiations with the PRS about the size and nature of future fees paid by members. 

With just one woman elected across both the Gaming and Amusement Councils are you concerned about the lack of diversity within Bacta?

Yes. I am concerned. There is a need to shift the balance. I want to hear more from the many women and young people who work in our sector. It’s not just about looking better to the outside world. It’s about taking better decisions as a consequence.

Finally, why should businesses join Bacta?

I’ve always believed in the principle that we are stronger together and weaker apart. Quite simply, our sector will achieve better outcomes – in our engagement with Government and the Gambling Commission – if all companies join the association. Don’t sit on the side lines. Join us!