The upcoming Gambling White Paper requires balance, not just between protecting the vulnerable and maintaining betting’s sustainability, but also ensuring it continues to support various affected sectors.
Caroline Nokes, the MP for Hampshire’s Romsey and Southampton North constituency, put this argument across in a recent article on ConservativeHome, emphasising in particular the betting industry’s contribution to rural communities.
This support, she explained, comes indirectly via the sector’s backing of horse racing, something evidenced last week by the Cheltenham Festival.
“In rural constituencies like mine you cannot help but notice the impact of equestrian sport on the local environment and economy,” Nokes said.
Racing and the rural communities in which racecourses are located are ‘interconnected worlds’, she asserted, and the impact of betting regulations on the former could have significant consequences.
“This economic and social ecosystem is of great value to local communities like mine and needs to be kept alive and well,” the MP continued.
“Any threat to horseracing poses a threat to all of this – and we are being told that there is such a threat to horseracing from proposals to be included in the imminent Gambling Review White Paper.
“This is because of the symbiotic relationship between the health of horseracing and the support and funding from the betting industry which in itself supports 110,000 jobs and generates £7.1bn for the economy.”
The Gambling Act review is currently being overseen by its sixth DCMS Secretary. When the number of Junior Ministers working on the review are factored in, the total number of Ministers conducting the review rises to 10.
Meanwhile, the review is also now on its third Prime Minister since it was initially announced by Boris Johnson back in December 2020. Nokes has, however, put her faith in Rishi Sunak to consider the concerns of horse racing and rural stakeholders.
Even before becoming PM, Sunak was said to be monitoring the review closely, being the MP for the largely rural constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire, which coincidentally also includes Catterick racecourse within its borders.
For Nokes, politicians need to listen to the concerns of these aforementioned stakeholders, particularly around areas such as affordability checks – she pointed to the recent Racing TV survey around this issue.
Some in both betting and racing have argued that affordability checks, which would require punters to show bank statements or payslips in order to place larger wagers, are overly intrusive and would deter customers away from licenced betting firms.
Former Gambling Minister Paul Scully asserted in a speech shortly before his departmental transfer that ‘finance risk checks’ is a more appropriate term, and UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) CEO Andrew Rhodes has also argued that bookmakers are not being put under pressure to adopt any new measures.
However, the Racing TV survey – and Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) Chief Executive Michael Dugher – have countered this argument by suggesting that operators are increasingly enacting the measures as a result of enforcement actions, and punters are becoming increasingly disillusioned.
Noting the affordability debate and concerns from the industry, Nokes did add that she is confident rural economic factors will be considered in the review – especially given that the latest DCMS Secretary, Lucy Frazer, is a fellow MP from a countryside constituency.
Nokes continued: “I am very clear that Parliament and good regulation must protect the vulnerable and absolutely support that. But I equally want to see the vast majority who bet safely and happily to continue to be able to do so without such intrusion.
“So it is important that the White Paper strikes the right balance. With a new Secretary of State in Lucy Frazer, who also happens to represent a rural constituency with deep racing connections (including part of Newmarket and the National Stud), I am confident it will.”