‘The government’s feet should be held to the fire’

 

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.

“It’s okay for the government to say only a minority of customers will be impacted by this. Unfortunately Racing Post readers fear they are in that minority and the government is talking about them.

“We need to hold government’s feet to the fire when we take this forward that this genuinely means no disruption to the customer experience, that documents are only ever going to be a last resort, that this frictionless system should replace the need for documents and there shouldn’t be spending caps. This shouldn’t be intrusive.

“It’s not for me to do the government’s job for it in explaining its own proposals but I do think the government needs to do a better job in explaining its own proposals. I think this is a good white paper but terrible presentation and I fear the government is in danger of losing the argument with racing punters.”

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.”

 

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