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Nearly two-thirds of punters warn that forcing limits on their betting will drive them to the black market

Latest polling by YouGov found nearly two thirds of punters (65%) believe there is a large or substantial risk that setting limits on the amount of money spent on betting would drive more people to the unsafe, unregulated black market online. Polling also found almost 56 per cent of punters thought the Government should not set limits on how much money they could bet.

In a further worrying sign for the Government, Conservative voters and Brexit supporters from key Red Wall constituencies say that ministers, in new legislation to be announced imminently, shouldn’t be “sticking their noses in” by interfering with individuals having a bet in the UK.

Focus group research conducted by Public First in key seats the Conservatives must retain at the next election found voters were concerned about intrusive plans for punters amid expected widespread reforms of the industry.

Around 22.5 million adults in the UK have a bet each month, but according to the independent regulator the Gambling Commission, the rates of problem gambling are now at 0.2 per cent of the population, down from 0.4 per cent the year previous. This well-established problem gambling rate survey, which is conducted quarterly, has been a consistent measure of problem gambling rates since 2013.

This follows a PwC study commissioned by the Betting and Gaming Council showing Black Market gambling has more than doubled in just two years, from 220,000 users to 460,000 and the amount staked there is now in the billions of pounds, putting at risk the safety of consumers.

Threats to personal freedom and Government interference in consumer spending choices were key causes for concern for Red Wall voters when discussing new measures being considered as part of a review of the Gambling Act 2005.

One participant, a factory worker in Doncaster, said: “The Government shouldn’t be sticking their noses in. They say things like you should have two pints a day or whatever on alcohol. That’s fine. But any more than that and trying to step in on ultimately people spending their money. I should be allowed to do what I please with my money.”

Fears were expressed that strict blanket affordability checks would simply drive punters to the illegal black market for betting. One voter in Blackpool commented: “The issue is that you’re going to push people who don’t even have a problem onto these (illegal) websites. Then they’re betting on sites that don’t have the option to do limits or time outs or whatever, and you’re probably going to create a whole new wave of problem gamblers totally unnecessarily.”

One voter in Wakefield, soon to be contested in a by-election, said: “Where companies know and can see someone is developing a problem then obviously that should be the focus. But it shouldn’t mean we all have to get regulated, (football) clubs get told who they can sponsor with and we get told what we should spend money on. That’s ridiculous and too far to solve what is essentially a small problem really.”

The Government is expected to lay out their plans for a review of current regulations in a White Paper set to be published this summer.

Anti-gambling campaigners have demanded a raft of ‘draconian’ changes for punters including a complete ban on all advertising and sports sponsorship, bans on offers and promotions like ‘free bets’, intrusive affordability checks - as low as £100 a month - on those who like a punt on sports like football, darts and snooker, plus stake limits for all customers who are online gambling, even if they are showing no signs of risk.

When asked about so-called affordability checks, which would compel punters to provide bank statements to prove they could afford a bet, a voter in Wolverhampton asked: “Who’s idea is this - is it the Conservatives? I’m shocked to be honest, it sounds like something from a big brother style country. We can’t seriously be doing this sort of stuff in a free country. What are we going to have left?”.

Voters recognised that betting companies should step in and stop potential problem play. But ordinary punters should not be a victim of a blanket approach, they said.

Another voter in Blackpool, fearing a ‘nanny state’ commented: “All this stuff they’re doing on fatty foods or supermarket deals is just absurd. Then you add in all this stuff about gambling. It’s making a mockery of people and their ability to just be grown-ups. We don’t need telling how to live our lives – it’s completely too far for me.”

A voter in Wakefield echoed the desire to support personal freedom who said “I know what I want to spend and I know what I can afford – I’m not daft. I know what I’ll put on. There might be days like a big horse race or something and I’ll do extra but I’ve usually saved up for that.”

A female voter from Wolverhampton highlighted the positive impact that the industry has locally saying “We’ve got a lovely racecourse and a couple of decent casinos - people go for a good time and it brings people here. It’s important for the town.”

Despite the concerns, there was a broader level of support for checks on punters displaying signs of risk.

The BGC supports enhanced spending checks for online gambling but think these need to be non-instructive and carefully targeted at vulnerable customers and those at risk. We understand the concerns around stakes limits on slots and are open to a proportional and tiered system which seeks to identify and reduce harms. Last year we also called for an ombudsman to strengthen consumer redress. And we are committed to greater funding for research, education and treatment of problem gamblers.

Commenting on the findings, Betting and Gaming Council CEO Michael Dugher said: “At the BGC we support the Government’s Review of Gambling as an important opportunity to further raise standards, building on the changes introduced in recent times and the welcome reductions in problem gambling rates. But ministers need to act in a way that is carefully targeted at problem gamblers and those at risk, not the overwhelming majority of the 22.5 million Brits who enjoy having a bet each month.

“This latest polling and focus groups in key battleground constituencies shows how outraged punters will be if the Government listens to anti-gambling prohibitionists who want to interfere in people’s privacy and freedom of choice, by demanding personal documentation before you can have a bet, and by banning things and generally spoiling their enjoyment just because some politicians look down their noses at people who like a bet.

“People think politicians live on a different planet as it is. Telling them what they can and cannot do with their own time and their own money isn’t going to help fix that perception.

“Ministers should also stop being so complacent about the dangers of the unsafe, unregulated black market online. It’s real and it’s growing, and it is targeting vulnerable people and problem gamblers. This is not an argument against change. It’s an argument for getting changes right. Ministers need to be careful and smart - and they need to wary about overreaching themselves and interfering unnecessarily in people’s lives”.

The research featured seven focus groups in Wolverhampton, Stoke, Blackpool, Doncaster, Durham, Leigh and Wakefield, was carried out in April 2022 and comes ahead of the government’s publication of the Government’s White Paper on gambling, expected in the coming weeks.

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