The UK government’s white paper on gambling regulation, released in 2020, is a mixed bag of proposals that aim to protect vulnerable individuals while safeguarding the rights of responsible gamblers. While some recommendations are proportionate, others are unclear and vague, and the paper has been criticised for attempting to have its cake and eat it too.
One area of contention is affordability checks, which have been a subject of debate for months. Ordinary bettors dislike these checks, which they see as intrusive and an infringement on personal spending decisions. The racing industry has also expressed concerns that these checks could drive responsible punters away and cause a drop in revenue for the sport.
The white paper includes two tiers of affordability checks. The first tier, called a ‘financial vulnerability check’, is triggered by a loss of £125 a month or £500 a year and includes open-source background checks. The second tier, called ‘enhanced spending checks’, is triggered by a loss of £1,000 in a 24-hour period or £2,000 over 90 days and includes credit reference agency checks. However, the details of how these checks will work in practice remain unclear, and bookmakers may interpret the results inconsistently.
The white paper focuses on online betting, but it is unclear what will happen to bricks and mortar bookies, which have already been conducting affordability checks for months. Additionally, the paper raises questions about implementation and interpretation, leaving many frustrated and uncertain.
While the outcome of the review will likely be a more restrictive regulatory environment for punters, it is not the ruinous fate that anti-betting campaigners sought. However, bookmakers must reflect on their mistakes and use this moment as a watershed, ensuring that the excesses of the past are consigned to history. Racing must also value its core customer, the punter, and defend their interests if it wants to preserve the vital source of revenue that betting provides.
The white paper is not the end of the matter, as the right to bet will continue to come under scrutiny in the years ahead. The fundamental question of whether the state is justified in interfering in how people spend their own money remains unanswered.