Balancing Act: The Implications of Proposed Affordability Checks on the UK Betting Industry

Amelia Oddy  • 

The UK horseracing industry has launched a petition against the UK Government's proposal for affordability checks on losing gamblers. The proposal includes two tiers of checks, with the first tier targeting those who lose as little as £125 in 30 days or £500 in a year, while the second tier would scrutinise customers losing £1,000 within 24 hours or £2,000 in 90 days. These checks would involve credit reference agencies and personal documentation such as bank statements and proof of earnings. Industry experts opine that the checks aim to determine if a customer's gambling activity is potentially harmful to them.

The horseracing industry contends that it is already being rigorously audited through the Gambling White Paper, which states, "The industry must put consumer safety at its heart with a focus on affordability, online protections, and tackling gambling advertising and promotion." These guidelines mandate stringent checks and balances aimed at averting potential harm to customers due to gambling.

Toby Oddy, the CEO of Digital Fuel Performance, expressed his concerns about the proposed blanket affordability checks, stating, "While we fully support measures to protect customers, the current proposal of blanket affordability checks goes too far. It infringes on personal privacy and could potentially be detrimental to the industry."

The impact of these checks on the industry could be substantial. The insistence on such severe affordability checks might drive away customers who value their privacy, reducing engagement and dampening the overall market. There is a delicate balance to strike between customer protection and maintaining a thriving industry, and it's essential that any new regulations are carefully calibrated to achieve this.

If these proposals are enforced, the betting industry could potentially witness a significant dip in its revenues. Some estimates suggest that strict affordability checks could lead to a decline of up to 60% in the betting industry's gross gambling yield, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. This is primarily due to a predicted exodus of customers who are unwilling to undergo the invasive affordability checks and consequently may opt to limit their betting activities or move to other unregulated platforms. The British Horseracing Association has also warned that the new measures could lead to a decrease of £250 million annually in racing's levy and media rights income. Consequently, these measures could have far-reaching implications for the viability and future growth of the British horseracing industry.

The Gambling Commission's assertion that only a minuscule percentage of betting accounts will be subject to frictionless affordability or enhanced spending checks seems to misalign with the reality of the situation. A significant 26% of respondents to a recent survey reported they have already undergone these intrusive checks, thereby underscoring the need to review the implementation of blanket affordability checks. Over half of these respondents declined to complete the checks, signalling a widespread resistance to this process among bettors.

The call for targeted and proportionate measures, grounded in the specific circumstances of the individuals, is becoming louder. Until legislative changes to gambling regulations have been enacted and these checks have been tested efficiently to ensure seamless integration, interventions should only be initiated when an operator discerns genuine signs of vulnerability in an individual bettor’s behaviour.

The government's and Gambling Commission's intent to regulate the expenditure of horseracing enthusiasts raises pertinent questions, especially since such regulatory measures are not enforced in other leisure activities. The risk of promoting black market activities is also a significant concern. The survey results from British Racing reveal that affordability checks have driven a notable percentage of bettors towards unregulated bookmakers. This trend could exacerbate the challenges faced by individuals with gambling addictions.

The British Horseracing Authority plans to submit a comprehensive response to the Gambling Commission’s consultation, drawing on data from the ‘Right to Bet’ survey.

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