The Gambling Commission denies mandating the gambling industry’s burdensome affordability checks.
The claims that the industry regulator is pressuring bookmakers to impose intrusive affordability checks on bettors, according to Gambling Commission chief executive Andrew Rhodes, are “nonsense.”
Rhodes stated that the commission did not require operators to make such requests, despite extensive evidence of ordinary punters being asked to provide personal financial information in order to continue betting. Additionally, Rhodes stated that the sport could not attribute the decline in horseracing betting to affordability checks.
The government’s long-delayed gambling review white paper is expected to include affordability checks in some form. However, punters have lodged hundreds of complaints with the Racing Post, alleging that they have been required to provide financial documents such as bank statements and tax returns in order to demonstrate that they are able to pay for the amount of money they spend on gambling. This despite Paul Scully’s recent statement that neither the government nor the Gambling Commission should tell people how much they can afford to bet.
Bookmakers claim that Gambling Commission guidelines on customer interaction have forced them to use the contentious checks, but Rhodes stated: “The idea the commission is imposing pressure on the industry to carry out checks for the average punter is nonsense. Operators are currently required to have systems in place which identify people who may be at risk of harm and to take appropriate action. One part of an operator’s approach to managing risk is having proportionate thresholds at which more information is required to satisfy themselves there is no issue with that customer relationship.”
He added: “We do not require operators to get payslips or bank statements, it will be up to the operator how they go about any check they feel they need to make.”
Despite this, Rhodes stated in a speech this week that the commission expected operators to assess risk taking into account the “financial situation for a consumer.” Rhodes claimed that other factors were at play when it was suggested to him that even though the commission may not have explicitly instructed operators to conduct intrusive checks, they were being forced to do so for fear of failing to assess the financial situation of customers.
“There are operators that we know who, as part of their business model, don’t want to be involved in high-staking gambling as much as they would have done in the past,” he said. “The fact that bets are up in the last year among the largest operators and active accounts are up suggests that actually the number of people gambling is pretty stable.”
Rhodes stated in his speech this week that large operators have experienced a decline in gross gambling yield of almost 16% and a rise in total staked of more than 13%. Rhodes responded, “very unlikely to be the first interaction that somebody has,” when asked if it was appropriate to request financial information from bettors. He also stated, “Bookmakers will typically have triggers based on earlier levels of spend, frequency of spend, changes in patterns of play.”
He did, however, acknowledge that punters might be hesitant to disclose financial information. “I think in any walk of life I can understand why people don’t necessarily want to share information,” he said. “It’s something we are all conditioned to treat with caution and to be careful what information we share.”
Scully stated in a speech last month that the government was considering introducing checks that would not require customers to provide their personal information.
Rhodes said: “What we would like to see for the future, and it is something that the now prior minister spoke about recently, which we have been working on is the ability to try to have frictionless checks that avoid people needing to present evidence.
“What we are not trying to do is create an unnecessary level of friction for people who are gambling and have no reason to necessarily stop, it is well within their means, they understand what they are doing and that is their choice to make. We have always said that.”
Martin Cruddace, chief executive of Arena Racing Company (Arc), claimed last year that affordability checks were to blame for a decline in horseracing betting of £800 million, which could result in a £40 million annual revenue loss for the sport.
Rhodes stated that it was too difficult to attribute that decrease to a single factor, citing figures indicating that only one percent of accounts were responsible for seventy percent of horseracing betting customers’ profits. He asserted that the behavior of the most prolific racing bettors could be influenced by other factors, including the aging of the racing audience, the economic situation, and the small field sizes.
Rhodes, on the other hand, stated that he had met with the BHA and was scheduled to meet with them again. Additionally, he had visited Chepstow and was scheduled to meet with Arc, the track’s owner. “The dialogue obviously continues. We completely understand, as we would with any industry, any sport, any group of people betting, that we should have a sensible dialogue with them about what we see going on.”
The Racing Post has received inquiries about affordability checks from a number of individuals who have admitted to either having bet with operators of the black market or considering doing so. The Betting and Gaming Council has also recently released figures that claim there was a spike in black market gambling during the World Cup in Qatar last year, and they warn against getting complacent about the situation.
Rhodes said: “I don’t think you can argue that improving things in the legitimate market shouldn’t happen because that might drive people to illegal gambling. I don’t accept that and I do think there has been some lazy argument about this.
“When you talk to operators in other countries, and many of those operators also operate here, they point to Great Britain as the example of how to reduce the risks of illegal gambling by having a very liberalised market.”
The white paper’s recent reshuffle by prime minister Rishi Sunak is expected to cause additional delays.
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