Michael Dugher has reiterated his view that a statutory levy for research, education and treatment (RET) funding is ‘unnecessary’, but that he is ‘relaxed’ about the prospect.
In a recent appearance on the Nick Luck Daily podcast, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) Chief Executive stated that the trade association is prepared to extend its 1% RET commitment across the industry.
RET – rolling out the ‘big four’ commitment
As it stands, the ‘big four’ brands commit to donating 1% of their revenues to projects and initiatives chosen by GambleAware, but firms with revenues under £250,000 commit a minimum of £250.
This approach has been criticised as ‘inconsistent’ by GambleAware, which – along with other organisations and individuals – has been calling for a mandatory levy to support RET programmes, something which the BBC reported last week to be a likely outcome of the Gambling Act review.
“I am relaxed about this,” Dugher began. “I think it’s unnecessary, the one per cent is already being paid by big operators and has been since 2019.
“I’m happy to talk about this publicly because so much time has gone by but we’ve been talking to the government privately for some time and reached agreement sometime last year that we would be happy to roll that 1% levy out across the rest of the regulated industry.”
As Dugher put it, ‘the money is on the table’, and the betting industry’s biggest firms proved in 2019 that they were willing to give reform advocates a figure to support RET efforts.
He added that, as it stands, funding is ‘more than was forecast in 2019’, and so he would be happy for the 1% contribution commitment ‘to be rolled out for the rest of the regulated industry’.
This would mean that every licensed betting and gaming operator in the UK, no matter how big the brand or high the revenues, would commit 1% of annual finances to RET.
Dugher was keen to reiterate, however, that the needs of the industry also had to be taken into account, saying: “I think it’s really important though that we protect the land-based sector. The land-based operators have a much higher fixed cost.
“The 1% at the moment for those will be disastrous, and I think the government understands this. If you’re going to move to 1% you have to have mitigation and a different scale for land-based operators.”
Affordability already making its mark
As well as addressing RET, Luck also quizzed Dugher on the topic of affordability checks, a measure which has also been repeatedly touted by reformists as an ideal outcome of the review.
A couple of weeks ago, on Luck’s Racing TV programme, the presenter spoke to UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) CEO Andrew Rhodes about the prospect of affordability checks.
Luck asserted that punters are already reporting being affected by checks – a claim backed by a Racing Post survey published last week – but Rhodes replied that the regular is not mandating such measures by operators.
Dugher painted a different picture to Luck, saying that Commission enforcement and inspections checks have made operators more likely to conduct affordability/finance checks on their customers.
He said: “There is no denying the fact that after those inspections and enforcement actions, it has been made very very clear to operators that they have to consider affordability, that means looking at somebody’s discretionary income and spend and then have to reach judgement in relation to customers based on that.
“In order to ascertain that, and then to take the action, you have seen what absolutely amounts to intrusive affordability checks. The operators who have gone through that process and made it absolutely clear to me that they are obligated by the Gambling Commission to do that.
“I think the government has an opportunity in the White paper to really tidy up this mess once and for all.”
The BGC CEO asserted that the government has two choices as it prepares the White Paper, apparently due for publication in the spring after yet another delay following a departmental reshuffle at the DCMS.
He explained: “You can do what anti-gambling campaigners want and have draconian blanket intrusive affordability checks, £100 loss a month and people would have to produce bank payments and payslips and would be restricted to their betting or we can have background, financial risk checks, which is something that the industry has been advocating.
“These are genuinely non-intrusive, so you are making more interventions but you need to make an overall risk assessment about customers so instead of looking at their income and spend, why don’t you look at the multiple markers of harm that the technology online that’s available enables you to do.”
Delay after delay…
In one of his last updates to the industry before moving over to the newly created Science, Innovation and Technology (SIT) department, then-Gambling Minister Paul Scully said that operators can expect ‘finance risk checks’ and not ‘affordability checks’.
With different people of influence saying different things on the review’s outcome, only time will tell – something both reform advocates and industry stakeholders have had to get used to over the past two years.
Last month’s DCMS restructuring and the appointment of Lucy Frazer to lead the department has brought the total number of Secretaries and Under-Secretaries overseeing the review to 10.
“Although we can even half laugh at 10 different ministers responsible for this over the last two and a bit years there are now serious consequences,” Dugher remarked.
“If we go back a year there were lots of dire warnings from the industry, and also racing, which were disputed by anti-gambling campaigners.
“Fast forward a year later and we’re actually seeing not just reports making warnings about impacts on things, such as affordability checks would have, but we’re actually seeing those consequences right now.”