Once feared, now confirmed.
The UK Gambling Commission has revealed that they plan to undertake a period of consultation on proposed affordability checks, which would see punters having to prove their income in order to be able to bet without restriction.
Thankfully, proposals limiting some to a net loss of £100 per month may have been cast asunder – there has been no mention of specific amounts in the regulator’s despatches so far.
The consultation will run parallel to the government’s own Gambling Act review, the fruits of which are likely to be revealed in May when their scheduled White Paper is published. It’s thought that ministers’ own regulatory reform proposals could feature an element of affordability checking.
According to the story in the Daily Mail, such checks would be for online punters only –and not be carried out in betting shops or with on-course bookmakers, and that only those whose losses run ‘into thousands’ would be means tested.
Taking All the Credit
On paper, there is no problem with bookmakers and betting firms wanting to ensure their customers can afford to lose whatever they are staking in a given timeframe.
But the practicalities of that could lead to problems. Where will the information they gather from thousands of customers be stored? If there’s a data breach, it would be catastrophic.
There has also been talk of betting firms being forced to use credit checking agencies to access the information required. But, as we know, every time a credit facility runs an analysis it can harm the individual’s score….how could this be circumnavigated? Even if it’s a ‘soft’ inquiry, the check will likely remain on your credit report forever.
If affordability checks are going to be introduced, it’s essential that those involved come up with a solution that does not penalise punters in other aspects of their lives.
Black Market Boom
So if punters can’t get their bets on with a traditional UK bookmaker, or they are unwilling to share their private information with a betting site, what alternative do they have?
Sadly, more and more are turning to the black market, a set of typically offshore firms that are unlicensed in the UK, and who would be accessed via a VPN or some other method.
According to data released earlier this year, the number of people using betting’s black market in the UK has increased to 460,000, and it’s believed that the total amount they are wagering is into the billions.
A poll ran by The Mirror confirmed that just 16% of punters would be willing to share their payslips and bank statements with a bookmaker in order to prove they can afford their wagering.
It should be said, for the sake of balance, that some believe the extent of the black market is over-played, with Neil McArthur – the former Gambling Commission chief executive – claiming in 2021 that ‘our own evidence suggests that the impact [of illegal bookmakers] may be being exaggerated.’
The issue with the black market is that it can be unsafe for punters, given that the bookies they are accessing simply don’t have to adhere to any of the regulatory measures that apply to licensed and approved entities. Those include the protection of sensitive data and the management of funds….punters can lose their account balances when an illegal bookie goes bust.
There are other associated problems too. UK approved bookmakers pay their taxes, which makes them a legitimate industry in the eyes of government ministers eyeing reform, and the betting levy fund is used to help financially prop up horse racing – take away that, and you wonder what the future might hold for the sport of kings, with estimates it could cost racing as much as £100 million per year.
The leading trainer, John Gosden, is certainly fearful of the outcome of regulatory reform. “We have a gambling review white paper coming right down the road like a bullet between the eyes,” he said. “To me, I’m not interested in gambling. But without it, we don’t exist.”
Holding bookmakers and betting firms accountable for their customers, and ensuring problem gambling behaviours are nipped in the bud as early as possible, are both essential for the industry to flourish. But should punters be inconvenienced in the pursuit of that utopia?