Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher has called for the UK government to adhere to its promise of frictionless financial checks on gamblers and not increase their intrusiveness.
On Thursday, the government unveiled a gambling white paper, which included proposals for “background checks” at thresholds of £125 in net losses per month or £500 per year, with enhanced checks set at £1,000 in losses in 24 hours or £2,000 in 90 days.
The government estimated that only 3% of customers would face more detailed checks, with these conducted via credit reference agencies or open banking. Requests for documents would be a last resort.
Dugher admitted gamblers were likely to be anxious about the changes, however.
The white paper revealed that British racing could see its income from the levy, media rights and sponsorship fall by up to £14.9m per year as a result of the proposed checks.
Dugher said: “Racing is undoubtedly going to take a hit here, as we have consistently warned. I think that is regrettable. One of the issues around this is the extent to which racing is being listened to by the politicians. What I would like to see is racing continue to work with us in the months ahead because there is a symbiotic relationship between betting and racing and I think we need to work very closely together on the shared challenges that we face in terms of the future of the sport.”
The government also stated that it was reviewing the levy, considering whether to extend it to overseas races, increase its contribution and convert it to a turnover-based model from gross profits.
Dugher said: “We will work closely with racing on levy reform but it is not the panacea that some people think it is. This great sport of ours faces huge challenges. So I think there needs to be a fundamental look at what we can do together to improve the long-term financial health of the sport.”
Dugher criticised the white paper’s tone, stating that he was unhappy with culture secretary Lucy Frazer’s assertion that “the temptation to gamble is now everywhere in society”.
“I am not sure how responsible it was to indulge in some of the moral alarmism that we had around the white paper,” he said, “echoes of the religious right with talk about temptation is everywhere. Occasionally politicians do themselves no favours and can reveal just how out of touch they are.”
He added: “There could also have been more acknowledgement of the economic contribution the industry makes. The secretary of state said we pay millions in tax – well we actually we pay billions in tax. There are 110,000 people in this country whose jobs depend on the betting industry and there was not a single word in the secretary of state’s statement to acknowledge that.”
Ian Proctor, chair of the UK & Ireland division of Flutter Entertainment, which owns Paddy Power, Betfair and Sky Bet, agreed with Dugher’s concerns.
He said: “Somewhere lost in all of this is that there are millions of people who enjoy doing this, this is our fun and I think that balance didn’t really come out yesterday. There are millions of people who have a bet every weekend and it’s really key that we make sure that whatever we do next that we are not interfering with people’s enjoyment in life, that’s really important.”
The white paper also suggested that £29m in reserves held by the Levy Board could be used to offset racing’s financial losses while the levy was under review, but the British Horseracing Authority objected that this was not an appropriate use of the funds.
Levy Board chief executive Alan Delmonte said: “We will be holding discussions with DCMS on the white paper, the projections of its financial impact and on the levy review process. The board will consider everything in the round first when it takes decisions in June about expenditure for the rest of 2023, and then later in the year for 2024.”
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.
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.
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.
Gambling review white paper: the main proposals
The white paper proposes two thresholds for conducting affordability checks. The first threshold is called the “moderate loss threshold,” which involves checking for financial vulnerability indicators, such as county court judgements, average postcode affluence, and bankruptcies, if a net loss of £125 occurs within a rolling month period or £500 within a rolling year period. The second threshold is triggered by “binge gambling,” which involves a net loss of £1,000 within a 24-hour period and requires an “enhanced spending check.” The Gambling Commission is working with the financial services sector to determine the mechanics of this check, which is expected to involve credit reference agencies and only raise concerns if necessary. However, if frictionless checks fail to provide sufficient information, data may need to be collected directly from the customer.
The Gambling Commission plans to consult on the proposed thresholds, including a £2,000 net loss threshold within a 90-day period that triggers the same checks as a £1,000 net loss in a 24-hour period. The proposed thresholds are less strict than the previously proposed £100 loss limit and hard checks.
According to the white paper, 20% of accounts would be subject to a financial vulnerability assessment, and about 3% of accounts would be subject to an enhanced check. The government expects credit reference agencies to conduct the financial vulnerability assessments in a “frictionless” manner, and 80% of the enhanced checks can also be handled in this way. The remaining 20% of cases will require further checks, with half of them being “semi-agreeable checks,” such as open banking, and the other half being “disagreeable checks,” such as requests for bank statements or payslips.
The Racing Post’s Big Punting Survey found that one in six respondents had already been asked to undergo an affordability check. While the white paper claims that the proposed checks will be “frictionless,” the precise mechanics of how they will work have not been fully determined, potentially leading to higher-staking bettors receiving requests for sensitive financial information.
The white paper discusses levy reform and states that the government recognises the value of the racing industry and has already begun reviewing the central funding system, with the goal of completing it by 2024. The government estimates that the proposed financial risk protections for online betting on racing could lead to a six to 11 percent reduction in levy yield, resulting in a total income drop of 0.5 to 1 percent (£8.4-14.9m) for the racing industry. In response to representations from the industry, the government is considering extending the levy to all international racing bets made by British customers and changing it to a percentage of turnover, rather than profits.
While the commitment to levy reform is not new, the industry will appreciate the government’s acknowledgement of the sport’s cultural and economic importance, as well as the proposed extension of the levy and adjustment to a percentage of turnover, which could lead to more stable yields. However, these proposals may only offset the expected reduction in yields from other measures outlined in the white paper, and the government suggests that Levy Board reserves may need to be used to address any funding gaps the industry may face in the meantime.
The white paper addresses the issue of free bets and the need for clear rules and fair limits on their design and targeting to prevent excessive or harmful gambling. The Gambling Commission has already strengthened restrictions on online VIP schemes and introduced rules to prevent marketing targeted at people showing significant indicators of harm. The Commission will now review the use of incentives such as free bets and bonuses.
The white paper cites a Commission survey showing that a significant number of respondents believed that free bets and bonus offers encouraged them to gamble more than they wanted to. However, the evidence on the correlation between these incentives and harm is limited, and the government is calling for a greater evidence base.
The white paper also notes that re-wagering requirements for free bets are often set at high thresholds, and funds and winnings can expire after a short time, creating a sense of urgency to gamble. The Commission will consult on caps for wagering requirements and minimum time limits before offers expire.
The white paper outlines the Gambling Commission’s plans to consult on measures to give bettors more control over the types of marketing they receive, such as the need to opt in for bonuses. The use of technology by betting operators to target ads away from children and vulnerable people will also be encouraged, and there will be an emphasis on stronger messaging regarding the risks associated with gambling. Additionally, the government plans to work with governing bodies in the sector to develop a cross-sport gambling sponsorship code.
While some may be disappointed that the measures fall short of a complete ban on gambling advertising and sponsorship, the government’s aim is to place incentives such as free bets and bonuses in the hands of the punters. By requiring opt-ins, individuals who are more vulnerable to gambling-related harm are given greater protection against receiving incentives they may find difficult to resist. Further campaigning may still focus on a complete ban on gambling advertising and sponsorship.
Single Customer View
The white paper highlights the start of a live trial for a Single Customer View (SCV) system, aimed at preventing customers from losing unaffordable sums by sharing information across different gambling operators. The trial, which began this month with the help of GamStop, is focused on high-risk gamblers, with codes of practice being developed to assess whether the SCV system is identifying the right people and appropriate measures are being taken by bookmakers.
The government’s stance on the SCV system is clear – it expects the industry to deliver on this solution. However, the white paper indicates that the government and the Gambling Commission may reject the trial if they are not satisfied with its results and create their own alternative. The possibility of a further consultation before full implementation is also suggested.
The proposal for a national database of gamblers has been rejected due to privacy implications for the majority who gamble without any adverse effects. This acknowledges the fact that many punters may not want their data to be shared.
The white paper announces the government’s plan to introduce a mandatory statutory levy to be paid by gambling operators and collected and distributed by the Gambling Commission. The levy will fund research, education, and treatment of gambling harms, and a consultation will be launched to determine the details of its design, including the total amount to be raised and how it will be proportionately and fairly constructed.
Although the power to create such a levy has existed since 2005, the government notes that no previous administration has used it, and the industry has provided financial support on a voluntary basis. However, the government now believes that a mandatory levy is necessary for long-term funding certainty, despite opposition from the betting industry. The Gambling Commission will also have an enhanced role in directly commissioning research to inform regulation, and efforts will be made to stimulate independent research in the area of gambling.
After several delays, the UK government’s gambling white paper is set to be published today.
The paper will outline proposals to modernise the regulation of the gambling sector to fit the digital age. It will reportedly include a review of British racing’s levy system and plans for affordability checks on gamblers. The government launched its gambling review in December 2020 but ministerial changes have caused repeated delays to the publication of the white paper.
The review is expected to include measures such as a reduction in stakes for online slot games to match those found in land-based gambling, the creation of a gambling ombudsman to deal with customer complaints, and a statutory levy on gambling operators to pay for research, education, and treatment of problem gambling.
Of particular interest to the racing industry is what the white paper will contain on the controversial subject of affordability checks. The industry’s leadership believes that these checks are already costing the sport tens of millions of pounds in revenue due to requests for personal financial information from customers such as bank statements. However, recent press reports suggest that the proposals will be less intrusive and more akin to credit checks.
The Premier League’s recent announcement of a voluntary ban on gambling sponsorship from the front of matchday shirts means that stringent measures such as a ban on gambling advertising and sponsorship are not expected to be included in the white paper. The Premier League has also said that it is working with other sports on the development of a new gambling sponsorship code, which could be among the proposals.