There are fears racing fans could be put off betting by affordability checks
Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Legions of punters could be put off betting on horseracing, with significant ramifications for the sport, if proposals which could result in “potentially millions” of people being subject to affordability checks come to fruition, the Gambling Commission is set to be warned.
The Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF) is planning to tell the industry regulator it believes gambling operators have tools at their disposal to tackle problem gambling and affordability checks will not help solve the issue.
The Gambling Commission last year launched a consultation on online customer interaction, which includes the controversial subject of affordability checks. It discusses the possibility of introducing checks to counter problem gambling, which could mean a monthly net loss of as little as £100 might prompt an intervention, meaning a customer having to prove they could afford to lose more before being able to place another bet.
The proposal has caused great concern among British racing’s leadership, with the sport estimating the worst case scenario could cost it more than £60 million in lost levy and media rights income alone.
The HBF, which was set up with the aid of the BHA in 2015 to represent the interests of those who bet on British racing, has produced a consultation submission which it plans to deliver next week.
In its introduction, the HBF says it “does not support” the introduction of affordability assessments at the proposed level of £100 per month and has “serious concerns” that affordability checks will not solve the issue of problem gambling, adding that if they are deemed necessary they should be set at a much higher amount.
It adds: “Since 99.5 per cent of those who gamble show no signs of problem gambling, we believe that making potentially millions of bettors have to undergo affordability checks will dissuade many from continuing with this pursuit, which will in turn have a significant impact on the sport of horse racing.”
HBF chairman Colin Hord told the Racing Post: “The HBF understands that affordability checks will likely require bettors to provide substantial evidence that they are able to afford to gamble, these may include providing bookmakers with pay slips, pension information, savings details etc, as well as bank statements.
“The HBF is aware that some bettors are already having to provide this type of information to satisfy current regulations, and many have said they find them intrusive and time consuming.”
The consultation coincides with the government’s review of the Gambling Act which also mentions affordability, and the HBF believes that the matter should ultimately be decided by parliament.
Hord said: “Hopefully this consultation will serve as a way forward and help derive evidence for the Gambling Act review itself. Don’t put the cart before the horse.”
The HBF submission also argues that affordability checks can be easily worked around but also run the risk of pushing bettors to unregulated sites.
Hord said: “These affordability checks as they stand are really easily avoided by a variety of straightforward means – signing up with different bookmakers, using different accounts, betting at the bookies, betting on the racecourse and so on.
“And there is this potential fear of people using unregulated or overseas operators as well. That’s a concern for us. Having got a well-regulated gambling industry in the UK it would be foolish to push people somewhere else.”
The HBF said it believes there should be demarcation between games of chance such as online casino gaming and betting on horseracing and other sports.
The submission also states that gambling operators must put the welfare of customers at the heart of their business and says the effectiveness of safer gambling tools which have already been introduced should be evaluated before affordability checks are imposed. It also argues that operators already have ways to identify those at risk.
Hord added: “We believe they must be able to work out who are losers just as easily as they work out who are winners and we believe more should be done to help those people that have problems with their gambling.”
The Gambling Commission has this week provided a simplified consultation response form on its website and has called on punters to get involved. The consultation has already been extended until February 9 so great has been the level of interest.
A commission spokesperson said: “This is a public consultation and we would encourage everyone who has an interest to have their say – and that definitely includes Racing Post readers. We will carefully consider all responses before making a decision.”
The spokesperson added that while some operators have improved the way they interact with customers, others were not taking appropriate action or acting quickly enough when identifying those at risk.
They added: “We are clear on the need for gambling companies to take further action and our consultation proposes that the commission sets firm requirements to ensure consistent standards.
“But we want to have an open discussion with the gambling industry, consumers, people with lived experience and other stakeholders, to ensure we strike the right balance between allowing consumer freedom and ensuring that there are protections in place to prevent gambling harm.”
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