Lord Dave Watts

Red Wall voters hold the keys to Downing Street, only the party that listens to them will win

Regulated betting and gaming supports many communities in the Red Wall - MPs would be wise to listen to them.

The electoral map that will determine the outcome of the next General Election – the so-called Red Wall of previously Labour held seats that went Conservative in 2019 – is a map of areas where for many, racing is in the blood. So, the fact the Government has spent the summer getting pulverized by the Racing Post, and its readership of punters, ought to add to the growing list of concerns for the MP for Catterick Racecourse, Rishi Sunak.

There’s a multitude of pressures currently pushing voters in post-industrial towns and cities across the North Midlands and Northern England, back to their traditional voting roots. The promise of economic growth from Brexit remains elusive, while the very real day-to-day pressures of the cost-of-living crisis, energy crisis and sky-high inflation, are all taking their damaging toll. No one is saying the niche issue of betting will determine the General Election, but Red Wall voters will, and it’s obvious they feel the current Government is not listening to them.

Anyone who has spent time in these heartlands will already know the savvy voters who call it home. They work hard, pay their taxes and raise their families to do the same. They believe in industry, enterprise and fair play. They are fiercely proud of their communities, their identity and their culture. And crucially, they do not like to be told how to think and act.

Sadly, many MPs fail to realise betting is part of the culture for many of these communities. Red Wall constituencies boast major racecourses, in places like Redcar, Sedgefield and Wolverhampton, where going to the horses and having a bet is considered no different from going to the pub for a pint.

Regulated betting and gaming also supports their communities financially. Recent analysis found regulated betting and gaming companies directly contributed £384m to British horseracing last year in levy, media rights and sponsorship deals. Meanwhile, the wider regulated betting and gaming industry contributes £7.1bn to the economy, generates £4.2bn in tax and supports 110,000 jobs – many in the Red Wall.

And it’s not just horseracing, the area is crammed with fans of football, snooker, darts, boxing, and rugby league. These are all huge sports with a massive following in these constituencies. It’s clear, sport and betting are part of the social fabric and identity of these places, as well as major contributors to the local economy. Let’s be clear, each month around 22.5m people have a bet, many of whom live in these regions, and according to the most recent NHS Health Survey the rate of problem gambling among adults in England is 0.4 per cent. It’s clear, the overwhelming majority are enjoying their hobby responsibly.

It’s no surprise then, that one issue that is particularly exercising punters is the issue of affordability checks. Anyone who has picked up the Racing Post will see how deep the anger and confusion runs among punters, who naturally feel they are being unfairly targeted.

The Government, when unveiling their much delayed white paper on reforms to gambling legislation made clear these checks should be frictionless, and operate behind the scenes.

That is because punters have repeatedly made clear if they are forced to hand over personal information, as a condition of being allowed to bet, they will decline to do so. This may mean they abandon their hobby altogether, which is obviously bad for horseracing and sport. Worse still, they could seek out operators who do not conduct these checks, and they can only be found on the unsafe, unregulated gambling black market online.

Neither the industry, horseracing or the Government want to see punters lose unaffordable amounts, or be exposed to financial vulnerability, that is why the industry proposed targeted, enhanced checks, carefully targeted on the vulnerable, if they were truly frictionless. They are not alone, I have always supported reasonable proposals that have given improved protection for vulnerable gamblers - but it must be proportionate.

However, while we wait for these frictionless checks to become reality a strange halfway house has been created which has become a purgatory for punters. Without a standardised method of enforcing these checks, confusion has become rife and punters are paying the price. If this fundamental issue is not resolved the unintended consequence could be devastating for horseracing and the jobs which rely on it.

After the 1992 election, The Sun newspaper famously declared ‘It’s The Sun wot won it’. Nobody thinks the Racing Post will determine the outcome of the next election, but in the scramble for every last vote the Government would be a fool to ignore racing punters when the public go to the polls.

Lord Dave Watts

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