The Gamblers Consumer Forum respond to the Gambling Minister’s letter following the Parliamentary debate on affordability

The Gamblers Consumer Forum have responded to points raised by Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew after his recent response to the petitions committee following the debate on affordability checks. Our response to the points are in bold and we will be seeking a range of responses to what we believe are inaccuracies and contradictions in the letter. For ease the letter is reproduced below in italics:

Thank you to the Petitions Committee for presiding over the debate on Monday 28 February on financial risk checks for gambling. I promised to write with an update on our review of the Horserace Betting Levy and have also set out some further reflections following that debate. 

The Government backs horseracing and will continue to do so. As I said in the debate, racing makes a significant contribution to our economy, and it plays a pivotal role in the livelihoods of rural communities. It is not our job to tell people how to spend their money. The vast majority of people who gamble and enjoy a bet on the horses suffer no harm. But we also have a duty to protect the under 1% of people who are problem gamblers and those at risk of problem gambling. There are still too many cases of people’s lives being ruined, and the serious impact that has on their families. I am confident our proposals are balanced, proportionate and fair. 

In this letter, the Minister quotes under 1% being problem gamblers. In his address to the Gambling Harms Groups, he used the figure 2.5% which is now being pushed by groups such as the Good Law Project, suggesting 1.4 million problem gamblers. This figure is widely disputed and has no basis in fact so why did the Minister use it and why is using different figures to different audiences. 

We are not proposing any new or additional checks for people betting in person at racecourses or in betting shops. The new Financial Risk Checks only apply to those gambling online. 

The checks when introduced will be frictionless background checks – I have been clear that they will only come in when we are confident that they are frictionless. 

No frictionless method exists, where is the detail on how you envisage this could possibly happen? Affordability checks do not exist in any other jurisdiction, so there is neither an evidential basis to suggest they will work, nor that they will be frictionless. 

We expect 80% of online accounts will not go through these checks. Only 20% of accounts are expected to go through the frictionless financial vulnerability check to see whether people have been declared bankrupt or have a history of unpaid debts. We expect only around 3% of accounts will go through the enhanced financial risk assessment, which will rely on seamless data-sharing to ensure that it operates similarly to a frictionless background credit check. These will only be brought in once we know they will be genuinely frictionless, following a pilot. 

Will the parameters of the pilot be fully transparent so we can be confident they are fair and reasonable, unlike the unpublished consultations of the Gambling Commission? When you refer to the credit history, are we to assume that those who have a perfect credit history will be able to carry on betting amounts they personally believe to be affordable with no further intervention? When you refer to seamless data sharing, is this open banking, and if so, what will be looked for and how will it adhere to a recent response we have received from the ICO stated ‘We have been clear that any financial data shared cannot be used for any other purpose such as ‘wealth screening’? 

The checks themselves will not block or stop anyone betting – they will just flag to operators if there are factors that the operator should consider. 

Following on from the previous question, will those who have black marks in their credit history, will be effectively barred from betting or placed under restrictions? Do you believe operators will continue to do business with these people, given cost of compliance and threat of heavy-handed action from the Gambling Commission? With this in mind, how many of those affected do you expect to go into the black market compared to giving up betting? Our YouGov polling suggests 53% of the UK public believe the answer to this is the ‘black market’.

The checks will ensure there is more consistency across betting rather than the current situation where different operators do checks in different ways at different levels. We are all in agreement that the current system isn’t working. Our new checks will deliver consistency and remove the friction punters are seeing at the moment. In the meantime, we continue to urge the Gambling Commission and operators to agree on interim measures to bring some consistency to the current system. 

Whilst we welcome friction being removed, there has been no mention of the indiscriminate AML checks which maybe bookmakers are undertaking at withdrawal, and after several deposits. Given in the majority of cases the money is being taken from and returned to UK bank accounts, surely its reasonable to assume the bank has already monitors accounts and bears responsibility? Given some operators have ‘loss prevention’ departments, what plans do you and the regulator have to deal with abuse of these checks?

In addition to this our review of the Horserace Betting Levy will conclude by April 2024 and I hope will see additional money flowing into racing from the betting industry through a voluntary agreement between racing and betting. 

I wanted to reiterate the point I made throughout the debate regarding how carefully the Government and the Gambling Commission have listened whilst we take forward this important phase of gambling reform, and I am grateful to those colleagues who acknowledged our open approach. We are listening, and we are adapting our approach based on evidence. The Gambling Commission confirmed this in a recent update. 

I have attached further detail in case helpful on the issues raised in the debate and remain available for further discussions with colleagues should they wish to understand the Government’s approach in more detail. 

We also wish to pick up a couple of points from the annex. We believe the quote that ‘just 6% of racing’s total income’ came from the levy. If affordability checks remove up to half of this which is entirely possible given 70% of the yield comes from 1% of accounts, the knock-on effect is catastrophic. Much income comes from owners who are already ceasing ownership due to low prize money, many top and medium class horses are being sold abroad and the product would become a lot less competitive. We believe using the figure is intellectually dishonest and ignores the fact that the betting industry is a pollinator for thousands of jobs up and down the country.

On the matter of the lottery, we dispute the concept of a problem gambling rate. If you review non-remote horserace bettors in the 2018 Health Survey, it indicates that 100% also bet on sports online; 83% played the National Lottery; 75% played FOBTs; 67% bet on dog races; 58% played fruit machines; 58% played online casino/slots; 50% bought scratch cards; 50% played another lottery; 42% bet with friends; 33% played in casinos; 25% played bingo in a club. Surely you must see from this that the idea that you can base addiction on a product is nonsense. On average, problem gamblers who bet on horseracing participated in ten different gambling activities over the course of the year.

However, the figures do indicate that the Problem Gambling rate for those who only bet on the horses was nil; whereas c10% of the problem gamblers in the survey only bet on lottery products. Do you accept this figure?

Annex 

Horserace Betting Levy Review As you will be aware we have commenced our review of the Horserace Betting Levy, which will be completed by April 2024. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has presented its case on behalf of the industry that there is a significant gap in its funding which they state means that British Racing is unable to compete with jurisdictions such as Ireland and France. We are considering their proposals, as well as submissions from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), as we undertake our review. 

Although I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the review, I want to reassure you that any decision will be firmly based on evidence and that the review will take account of the changes set out in the Gambling Act Review White Paper to ensure the levy delivers an appropriate level of funding for the horseracing sector. 

As there is currently no legislative opportunity to amend the levy, I have encouraged the betting and racing industries to work together on a voluntary deal in the best interests of the sport. Reaching a mutual agreement on the way forward for the levy would be beneficial to everyone. I have met both the BHA and BGC several times to encourage such an agreement, and I know that a lot of hard work has gone on in between those meetings. There is an offer on the table which is being considered by the BHA. I look forward to meeting both parties again in early March and am confident that a fair deal is possible. 

Nonetheless, I also want to stress that the levy is not the only source of funding for racing. It represented just 6% of racing’s total income in 2022, with far greater proportions earnt from owners, breeders, racegoers, media rights deals and sponsorship. Whilst we review what the levy provides, we have also asked racing and betting to explore how they can maximise other sources of income. One example of this is the recent changes to the fixture list that should bring an additional £90 million to racing by 2028. I welcome this initiative, and would encourage racing and betting to continue to explore other options available to them. 

Exempting racing from financial risk checks and comparison with National Lottery 

During the debate there were calls from several colleagues for betting on horse racing to be exempt from financial risk checks. I recognise that betting on racing is associated with lower rates of harm and is for many based on thorough research. However, it is not risk free. 70% of racing betting yield comes from 1% of accounts, and it is essential to ensure those highest spenders are not being harmed and can support the sport sustainably. I have also met with many individuals and loved ones of those whose gambling addiction or serious financial harm was rooted in racing betting. Furthermore, we know from online operator data that very few accounts are in reality used exclusively for betting on racing, and that a high level of loss across multiple gambling products is likely to be associated with harm. 

During the debate a number of colleagues also suggested that National Lottery products, and specifically, scratchcards, are associated with higher levels of harm than gambling on racing. The best available data from Public Health England shows that lottery scratchcards are associated with problem gambling rates of 1.8%, while online betting with a bookmaker is associated with a higher rate of 3.7%, and in-person gambling on horse racing is 3.0%. As I stated at the debate, under the 4th National Lottery Licence which started in February, player protection requirements have also been increased. 

Black market 

I also wanted to expand on the action we are taking regarding the concerns raised around the black market. We take the threats posed by the illegal online market very seriously. In addition to giving the Gambling Commission more powers to try and block and disrupt illegal gambling websites via the Criminal Justice Bill, the Commission has also increased its focus and resources to tackle the risks posed to customers, including by actively building stakeholder relationships and investing in training and technology. This is already bearing fruit. For example, in January 2024 the Commission issued nearly 100 cease and desist and disruption notices; and over the past six months, they have referred over 7,000 website URLs to Google, resulting in them being removed from search results. That work will be enhanced by the new disruption powers they will receive once the Criminal Justice Bill has passed through Parliament. This will allow the Gambling Commission to suspend IP addresses and domain names if they are being used for the purposes of serious crime connected with unlicensed gambling.

 

 

 

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