Michael Dugher

Michael Dugher

Intrusive gambling review proposals could have dire consequences for horseracing.

Article from The Racing Post | 17 March 2022

The Betting and Gaming Council chief executive with a warning for the sport

This week millions of horseracing fans are feasting on the spectacle that is the Cheltenham Festival – one of the jewels in the crown of this nation's proud jump racing tradition. But away from the crowds, thankfully back again after last year, the future of racing is being debated and decided miles away in Westminster.

Racing Post readers will already be keenly aware of the rumours swirling around the government's shake-up of betting and the potential impact on the sport.

The Betting and Gaming Council is the standards body representing bookies and punters. We fully support changes that will mean higher standards, tackling the tiny minority of problem gamblers, while protecting the vulnerable and those at risk. But some of the ideas currently being promoted by the anti-gambling lobby would have dire consequences for racecourses, communities and jobs.

The most controversial suggestion being openly aired is so-called affordability checks. These blanket tests would compel punters who enjoy a flutter perfectly safely and responsibly to produce their bank statements, payslips and other private financial details before being approved to bet.

How can it be right that politicians and bureaucrats can decide how you are allowed to spend the money you've earned and already paid tax on? A further proposal from prohibitionists is that you would be limited to spending as little as £100 per month of your own cash on a hobby.

It is difficult to envisage the same politicians suggesting customers show their payslips and present bank statements before buying pricey seats at the Royal Opera House. There is more than a little whiff of snobbery here.

Industry research predicts these checks would drain between £60 million to £100 million from racing overnight – and that would inevitably risk jobs and threaten local economies.

This isn't an attempt at scaremongering, far from it. Tickets for Cheltenham sold out at their fastest rate ever this year, a staggering 275,000 will attend, with airlines putting on extra flights to cope with demand. And £500m will likely be placed in bets.

The regulated betting and gaming industry is a carefully balanced ecosystem and it is appropriate to point out where changes in one part of the sector could seriously threaten another part, even if that is not the intention of campaigners or regulators.

The government promised us an evidence-led approach. We know regulations that are too strict and intrusive just drive punters to unsafe, unregulated black market gambling sites online – which is so bad for safer gambling too.

Unsurprisingly, one study found 95 per cent of punters would not share bank details in order to place a bet – while 86 per cent of punters feared checks like this would drive gambling underground.

Just look at other countries where they have made these changes hoping to target problem gamblers – it has hindered rather than helped. In Norway, regulators brought in strict restrictions on stakes, affordability checks and new advertising curbs, and now 66 per cent of all money staked goes to black market sites.

Problem gambling rates there are now at 1.4 per cent – proving that safer gambling is the first casualty of well-meaning but naive changes to the regulated industry.

Compare that with the positive trend here in the UK where rates of problem gambling are falling, from 0.6 per cent 18 months ago to 0.3 per cent up to last December, thanks in part to the efforts of the industry. Meanwhile the regulated betting industry employs 118,000 people and pours £4.4bn into the UK economy in tax contributions.

But the government stands ready to risk that and infringe on people's right to bet with their own money if it starts believing the minority voice of anti-gambling prohibitionists. It wants more regulation and tighter controls, but after two years of Covid restrictions, the nation's appetite for government to intervene in people's everyday lives, is wearing thin.

That is why we're backing a campaign launched by Racing TV that asks punters to email their MP. It takes less than a minute to do. It demands assurances any future changes to betting would not infringe on punters' civil liberties or inflict economic harm on horseracing.

You can sign it here.

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