There’s that old mantra that to assume ‘makes an ass out of u and me’, but that won’t stop the Gambling Commission from making some almighty assumptions when it comes to their controversial affordability checks on punters.
The head of the regulator, Andrew Rhodes, and a number of his senior colleagues appeared in front of MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee this week, where they were grilled on the industry White Paper and how they plan to implement its recommendations.
One of the central tenets of the paper is the proposed affordability checks, which will see millions of punters in the UK monitored by betting firms. Those wagering pre-determined amounts per week or per month will be subject to enhanced financial assessment – with Commission executive director Tim Miller sensationally claiming that an individual’s postcode could be used to determine their wealth and affordability.
What was that saying about making assumptions again?
Wrong Part of Town
If you live in a well to-do part of town then you’re well off, and if you live in a deprived area then you’re automatically poor.
That’s the thought process of senior minds within the gambling industry regulator, whose generalisation about society’s finances and leisure spending is trapped somewhere in the 1950s.
Miller confirmed that credit reports would be one way that bookmakers and online casinos could check their customers’ affordability, but also revealed the other data points that could be used to assume the size of your bank balance – including your postcode.
“At the moment, it will primarily be credit reference agencies, but clearly there’s a range of other data that can be publicly available that can be useful here,” he said. “So, for example, postcode data can be really useful in terms of helping you understand where areas of deprivation exist.
“If they’re living in an area of greater deprivation then, actually, I think it is right that we say there is greater onus on the operator to really understand whether that customer can afford the sort of gambling that they are engaged with.”
The White Paper has recommended that punters spending £1,000 in 24 hours or more than £2,000 in a 90-day window be subject to financial checks that the Commission claims will be ‘frictionless’ and that won’t appear on your credit report.
In the face-to-face meeting on Tuesday, Rhodes downplayed the threat of punters switching to the black market as a response to affordability checks – despite documented evidence to the contrary.
A PWC report published as far back in 2020 confirmed that the gambling black market was growing, with 4.5% of the betting public in the UK using an unlicensed and unregulated betting operator – with those estimated 460,000 people wagering a combined £2.8 billion annually.
However, that’s nothing to worry about as far as Rhodes is concerned – he went as far as to even question the existence of a black market. “Every time I’ve heard someone say to me, ‘Based on what’s happening here, people are going to the black market’, I have asked them the same question, ‘Tell me where,” he told ministers.
“And I have not once had an answer. I have not once been given the name of an operator or a person or a location or anything I can act upon, and I have consistently asked that question every time.”
Out of Touch
When not bungling their way through diary dates with the government, the Gambling Commission is kicking on with their day job.
And that, seemingly, is to appear as relevant as possible by taking a firmer stance on misbehaving operators.
In a record-breaking year in which the regulator has fined Entain and William Hill a combined £36 million alone, they have now suspended the operating licence of online outfit In Touch Games.
The firm, whose brands include mFortune, Bonus Boss and Mr Spin, is under investigation for possible breaches of Section 116 of the Gambling Act 2005, which relate to inadequate policies and procedures relating to anti money laundering, fair and transparent terms and practices and the reporting of key events – that’s thought to relate to the fact that their accounts, due to be published in April, have yet to be reported.
In Touch were fined £6.1 million as recently as February, when they were sanctioned for a host of social responsibility breaches that included allowing one punter to wager without verifying their claim that they earned £6,000 a month.
Under the Commission’s affordability check regime, at least unacceptable business practices like these will become a thing of the past….