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The number of UK punters visiting unregulated online black market gambling sites tripled during the World Cup, new research reveals.

In December alone 250,000 people visisted unregulated, black market sites compared to around 80,000 during the same month the previous year, with a similar jump in November.

Leading research team Yield Sec conducted the new analysis for the Betting and Gaming Council to assess the scale of black market gambling last year, including during the Qatar World Cup.

Analysts also found online traffic to sites advertising services to problem gamblers who had self-excluded from UK operators, rose almost 83 per cent.

All regulated betting operators in the UK are signed up to GamStop – a self-exclusion system that automatically blocks access across all regulated operators.

But the landmark report by Yield Sec, stated: “Non-GamStop sites have generated 82.68 per cent more visits from 26.88 per cent more unique customers during Nov-Dec 2022 compared to the previous two month period, spending on average 78 per cent more time on site.”

During that two month period alone over 64,500 vulnerable players searched for black market sites offering betting which circumvents GamStop.

The research also discovered peaks in traffic to black market sites in March during Cheltenham and June during Ascot, indicating horse racing is being heavily targeted by illegal gambling outfits.

Industry experts established it takes less than 30 seconds to sign up to a black market site before placing your first bet, compared to an average of 12 minutes with a regulated UK operator.

This is because UK operators must conduct strict identity and age verification checks to prevent problem gambling and fraud.

Michael Dugher, CEO at the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “This research exposes the dire threat the growing unsafe, unregulated black market poses to punters.

“While the regulated industry was going to great lengths to protect young people during the World Cup and adhering to strict regulations and promoting safer gambling, black market operators were preying on the vulnerable.

“These unlicensed sites offer none of the safer gambling tools promoted by our members, they pay no tax and employ no one, they do not contribute a penny to sport or services tackling gambling harm, and they do nothing to protect vulnerable players.

“This data shows the World Cup drove a range of worrying gambling trends in the UK - not in the regulated sector as predicted by anti-gambling prohibitionists - but in the unsafe unregulated black market online.

“There has been too much complacency about the threat of the black market. Rather than dismissing the problem, the regulator and the Government need to tread extremely carefully and resist blanket, intrusive affordability checks at low levels that push even more punters to these dangerous sites.”

Overall, the number of visits to black market websites from the UK increased by 46 per cent in 2022, with around 148,000 customers accessing illicit sites each month.

Separate research by PwC found the number of customers using unlicensed betting websites more than doubled, from 210,000 in 2019 to 460,000 in 2020 and the money staked in the billions.

Ismail Vali, Founder and CEO at Yield Sec, said: “This trend of increased illegal gambling activity during prominent sporting events reflects the ever-present threat that illegal operators pose to players and the audience.”

Meanwhile, the number of TV betting adverts shown on TV during the World Cup group stages fell by 34 per cent compared to the World Cup in 2018, figures have revealed.

Under the voluntary Whistle-to-Whistle ban by BGC members, TV betting commercials for regulated operators cannot be shown from five minutes before a match kicks off until five minutes after it ends, before the 9pm watershed.

A report last year found that the ban had led to a 97 per cent reduction in the number of such ads being seen by children at that time.

The BGC will hold its fourth AGM this Thursday, Jan 26. The keynote address will be delivered by DCMS minister responsible for gambling, Paul Scully MP, and the event is hosted by Times Radio presenter John Pienaar.

This year’s AGM will once again bring together business leaders from the UK’s regulated betting and gaming industry, a sector which generates £7.1bn for the economy, plus £4.2bn in taxes while supporting 110,000 jobs.

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