Snob factor at work in planned crackdown on having a flutter
This article was originally published in the Western Morning News
This weekend, for the first time since 2019, punters throughout the Westcountry will be able to walk into their local bookie and place a bet on the most famous race in the world, The Grand National.
I love the National. People back horses for a variety of reasons, with the form guide as important as whether the horse shares a name with a relative, or someone likes the colours of the jockey’s silks. It is a day when many people from every walk of life place their one annual horseracing bet.
The world’s most famous race up in Liverpool on Saturday is a huge day for the racing industry, and betting is the key part of their revenue. In the Westcountry, you are fortunate to have terrific racecourses. The likes of Exeter, Newton Abbot, Bath, Wincanton and Salisbury are an important part of the local economy. As are the numerous point-to-points that take place, bringing local communities together. I’m proud that we have such impressive racing heritage in this country and in strongholds like Devon and Somerset.
But this weekend’s showpiece race at Aintree comes amid a backdrop of great uncertainty for racing. The government are currently planning a shake-up of betting regulation. I 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.
Research shows when people are asked to hand over such personal paperwork – like bank statements and payslips – the vast majority of punters would just say no. Opponents of betting also want to stop offers that make betting fun and competitive. They will simply drive betting underground into the arms of shady black market operators with these bans, as we have seen in other European countries.
There’s more than a whiff of snobbishness about this. Can you imagine the outcry if drinks promotions in your local supermarket were banned? Or if people were compelled to prove they could afford pricey theatre tickets?
Those who stare down their noses at people who enjoy a bet may not realise millions they are patronising. Some 22.5 million adults enjoy a flutter each month, whether that’s buying a lottery ticket, enjoying a game of bingo or a day at the races, playing casino games or having a bet on football and other sports.
The fact is, betting and racing are joined at the hip. Betting provides racing with £350 million a year in funding, through sponsorship, media rights and the horse racing levy. During the pandemic, this life blood funding was critical to keeping the sport and tens of thousands of jobs, especially in rural areas, going. Similarly, the English Football League, snooker, darts and rugby league are all benefit from betting industry support.
That contribution is part of a bigger success story. Betting and Gaming Council members support about 119,000 jobs, generate £4.5 billion in tax and contribute £7.7 billion to the economy.
And this comes against a backdrop of marked improvement in our universal goal to improve player safety. According to the Gambling Commission, the independent regulator, rates of problem gambling are now at 0.3 per cent in the UK – down from 0.6 per cent 18 months ago. That’s equivalent to a drop from 340,000 problem gamblers down to 170,000. That is still 170,000 too many people - but it is going in the right direction. These statistics refute the argument from anti-gambling prohibitionists who want to treat betting like tobacco, something that is intrinsically harmful to all, as opposed to booze, which millions of people do but where sadly a minority can and do have a problem with it.
It’s two years since the Government first ordered a lockdown to deal with the Covid pandemic, ushering in a period of restrictions on personal freedoms unprecedented in peacetime history. As we come out of Covid, and betting shops are once again open for the Grand National, I think we all have a newfound appreciation of the freedom to do things we enjoy. The public have grown tired of being told by politicians what they can and cannot do – we need to allow people to get on with their lives - and do the things they enjoy most.
I wish all WMN readers and punters the best of luck in the National.
By Michael Dugher, Betting and Gaming Council CEO