BHA concern over financial risk checks

 

On Thursday, the UK government released its long-awaited gambling white paper, outlining proposals for reform in the industry. However, concerns have been raised by the British racing governing body, the BHA, about the effectiveness of the proposed financial risk checks.

The measures include background checks for issues such as county court judgements at a £125 net loss within a month or £500 within a year. A second tier of checks, which might indicate harmful binge gambling or sustained unaffordable losses, would come in at proposed thresholds of a £1,000 net loss within 24 hours or £2,000 within 90 days.

Ministers have claimed that the checks would be “frictionless” and conducted online by credit reference agencies or through other means such as open banking, with documentation asked for as a last resort. The government claimed that around eight in ten players would not undergo the checks, and only around three per cent of the highest-spending accounts would have more detailed checks.

Speaking after the white paper was released, BHA chief executive Julie Harrington expressed concerns about how unobtrusive and friction-free the checks would be. Harrington said the sport would do its own due diligence to see if the three per cent of punters subject to more detailed checks would be mirrored among racing’s customers.

She said: “In terms of the impact, the numbers around £1,000 and £2,000 are probably as we anticipated. The number around the less-intrusive checks of £125 is much lower.”

She added: “The big unknown for us at the moment is how unobtrusive and friction-free those checks are.”

Harrington said the sport would do its own due diligence to see if the three per cent of punters subject to more detailed checks would be mirrored among racing’s customers.

She added: “Our suspicion is that there will be a higher value punter in there so we would be more impacted than the average.”

The subject of affordability checks has been one of the most controversial aspects of the government’s gambling review, with campaigners having called for punters to have to prove they could afford gambling losses of as low as £100 a month. British racing’s leadership has warned that blanket affordability checks would be “highly damaging” to its finances.

Other proposals contained in the white paper include a statutory levy on gambling operators to help fund treatment services and research of problem gambling. The Gambling Commission will receive extra powers to tackle black market operators, and a new industry ombudsman will be created to deal with disputes and rule on redress where a customer suffers losses due to an operator failing in their player protection duties.

New stake limits for online slots games of between £2 and £15 per spin will be brought in to mirror those found in bricks-and-mortar premises. The stakes had previously been unlimited.

However, campaigners who had hoped for bans on gambling advertising and sponsorship in sport will have been left disappointed. The government launched its gambling review in December 2020 with a call for evidence, which resulted in 16,000 responses.

The BHA has warned that blanket affordability checks would be “highly damaging” to its finances, while Arena Racing Company estimated last year that the sport was losing £40 million per annum from checks already put in place by bookmakers involving requests for personal financial information such as bank statements.

The government also revealed that a review of the levy, British racing’s central funding system, had commenced. It had originally been set to happen by 2024.

It had been expected that the government would set the rate at one per cent of the industry’s gross profits, which could raise as much as £140 million. However, the rate will be subject to further consultation.

Announcing the government’s proposals, culture secretary Lucy Frazer said: “We live in an age where people have a virtual mobile casino in their pockets. It has made gambling easier, quicker and often more fun, but when things go wrong it can see people lose thousands of pounds in a few swipes of the screen.

“So we are stepping in to update the law for those most at risk of harm with a new levy on gambling operators to pay for treatment and education, player protection checks and new online slots stake limits.

“This will strengthen the safety net and help deliver our long-term plan to help build stronger communities while allowing millions of people to continue to play safely.”

Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, said he welcomed the publication of the white paper.

Dugher said: “We need time to consider the full detail and impacts of these proposals, but it is important to recognise the BGC has worked closely with government to deliver a wide-ranging package of balanced, proportionate and effective reforms.”

He added: “Our members generate £7.1 billion for the economy and raise £4.2 billion in tax every year, and the measures announced today should protect jobs and sustain that vital contribution, while also building on our own work to drive world-leading standards in safer gambling.”

Gambling review white paper: the main proposals

 

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