The new Gambling Minister has been urged by Racecourse Media Group (RMG) CEO Martin Stevenson to consider consumer opinions as the ‘long overdue’ White Paper regulatory overhaul looms.
Stevenson cited a recent survey by one of RMG’s subsidiaries, Racing TV, which quizzed 3,500 of the channel’s members on Gambling Act review topics, finding discontent with stricter measures and apparent engagement with ‘black market’ companies.
For RMG the most worrying status was around the use of unlicensed bookmakers – out of 3,539 racing bettors, 15% said they had had bet or knew someone who bets with an unregulated online bookmaker.
Stevenson remarked: “This survey is clear evidence that shows that the black market is real and substantial and suggests that affordability checks are having the effect of moving a significant number of affected punters out of the UK-regulated environment and so exposing them to potential harm.
“This must be a pyrrhic victory and the opposite to what affordability checks set out to achieve. We have shared this information with the Gambling Commission and hope that they can take account of this in their assessment of the black market. The evidence suggests it exists and is only building.”
On affordability checks, 80% of 3,469 respondents stated that they objected to the imposition of ‘mandatory limits’ to spending, whilst 22% out of 3,575 said they had been asked to supply ‘personal information’ by an operator.
“This is a strikingly high percentage, demonstrating consumers’ rejection of this intrusion on their leisure activity,” Stevenson continued.
“The inference that 22% of racing punters are at risk of harm is very challenging to believe and appears excessive when compared against the overall prevalence of problem gambling.”
Furthermore, 50% of 404 surveyed asserted that they had refused to supply this information when requested, and an additional 92% of 3,237 said that they would ‘consider using a different bookmaker’.
RMG’s CEO cited further concerns about the potential financial impact of affordability checks on horse racing, which depends heavily on betting revenue for fiscal support, to the tune of around £350m annually in the form of media rights and the levy.
Throughout the two year process of the Gambling Act review – which commenced in December 2020, with the White Paper delayed multiple times – racing and betting stakeholders have repeatedly raised this worry.
Back in February 2021, Lawrence Robertson MP asserted that the sport could lose up to £60m a year if £100 monthly deposit limits were imposed, whilst the Jockey Club put together a ‘worst case scenario’ estimate of £100m.
Stevenson, meanwhile, referenced a recent Racing Post article which estimated losses of £40m, stating: “Everyone involved in the industry should be deeply concerned. The impact of affordability checks is that the sport is suffering a heavy financial toll.”
In a speech to the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) AGM, Paul Scully – at the time Under Secretary of State for Tech and the Digital Economy (‘Gambling Minister’) outlined that affordability checks was not the correct term for potential measures.
“That word suggests that the government or Gambling Commission are going to set rules on how much people can ‘afford’ to gamble,” he informed the industry trade body.
“A one size fits all approach is not the intention here. It may be more accurate to call them ‘financial risk’ checks – checking that a higher than usual level of spend is not itself an indicator of harm.”
However, Scully no longer holds responsibility for the Gambling Act review after PM Rishi Sunak’s new departmental reshuffle, which has seen the DCMS transfer responsibility for digital economy oversight to a new department, Science, Innovation and Technology (SIT).
With Michele Donelan now SIT Secretary, DCMS is being led by the newly appointed Lucy Frazer MP, who has become the fourth Secretary in charge of the department since the Gambling Act review began 26 months ago.
Stevenson concluded: “I hope that the new Minister with responsibility for horse racing and gambling will also consider the results of this survey as part of the ongoing work on the Gambling Act Review.
“It has been long overdue, in this process, to consider the attitudes of the consumers themselves in regard to how they choose to spend their time and money. I was very glad to hear the former Minister acknowledge that in his recent speech.
“Applying universal limits does not recognise the wide range of natural betting behaviours, events, seasonality or differing individual financial circumstances. The undoubted highlight of the Jumps season, the upcoming Cheltenham Festival – which is the major focus for many punters – is clearly a case in point. To that end, I was pleased to see the former Minister stating that a ‘one size fits all approach’ was not the intention.”