The Betting and Gaming Council, the lobby group led by former Labour MP Michael Dugher, insists that stricter affordability checks would make more bettors turn to the black market. Although the group supports modifying spending checks, it believes ministers should focus on protecting problem gamblers instead of enforcing blanket measures.
The group is calling for the Government to safeguard the vulnerable while avoiding pushing gamblers to use online offshore sportsbooks that don’t hold a Gambling Commission license. The group has voiced its concern while the UK mulls over major industry reforms. One of the measures under consideration is the introduction of new affordability checks. These would require bettors wanting to spend over £100 to provide payslips or bank statements to prevent them from incurring unaffordable losses. The new regulations, likely to come into force in early Spring this year, could also lower maximum bets.
A “Wake-Up Call” for Ministers
A YouGov survey commissioned by the BGC found that only one in five British bettors would be willing to undergo affordability checks, whereas 58% of bettors would oppose the move. Mr. Dugher called the findings a “wake-up call” for ministers as they prepare to publish a white paper on gambling regulation reforms.
“We strongly support the gambling review as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to raise standards and promote safer gambling,” he said.
“Ministers have said it will be an evidence-led process, and these findings are a wake-up call showing the potential dangers of introducing blanket affordability checks on anyone who likes a flutter.
“We believe that technology should be used to identify those showing signs of problem gambling so that swift interventions can take place.”
However, Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of the Clean Up Gambling campaign, called the references to the black market a “classic distraction tactic”.
“The Gambling Commission itself has said there’s no evidence that increasing regulation has caused an uptick in use of unregulated sites, and there are plenty of things that the regulator could do if that ever became a problem,” he said.
Gambling operators have also been accused of exaggerating the threat of black-market betting. Last February, the BGC cited a PwC report claiming the number of people using unlicensed gambling sites has more than doubled to 460,000 compared to 2018-19.
However, Neil McArthur, chief executive of the Gambling Commission, said the report was “not consistent with the intelligence picture”, adding that the findings did not distinguish between real gamblers and automated bots.
In a letter addressed to a cross-party group of MPs that are examining gambling-related harm, McArthur stated: “We know that licensed operators and their trade bodies are concerned about the impact of the illegal market, but our own evidence suggests the impact may be being exaggerated.
“In any event, we are not convinced by the argument that suggests raising standards in the licensed market will prompt consumers to gamble with illegal operators.”
This crackdown comes even as British betting companies race to cash in on the growing US sports betting market. Since the Supreme Court overturned PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in 2018, 30 US states have changed their online betting and gambling laws and signed agreements with gambling operators such as FanDuel, which belongs to Paddy Power and Betfair owner Flutter.
Although the US betting industry is currently valued at around $44 billion, many predict it to be worth over $140 by 2028. As 2022 is likely to see California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Missouri legalize sports bets, more and more British betting companies are looking to quickly agree on deals with US states to expand their operations across America.