Are the white Paper consultations our last chance?

In his opinion piece published in Sunday’s Racing Post, Lee Mottershead branded the notion of frictionless affordability checks ‘fanciful in the extreme’. There wasn’t a huge amount Lee and I were aligned on when I read the article over the weekend, but one thing we can agree on is that there really isn’t a way to conduct affordability or AML checks that can be described as entirely frictionless. We’re close – but not all the way there.

I absolutely agree with Lee’s point that ‘complacency is not an option’. This is a crucial moment for the gambling industry, including the horse racing industry, as the Racing Post piece notes. However, it is here where we part company.

The rest of the article is an impassioned plea against the use of affordability checks in the gambling industry, much of which goes over familiar ground: they are an affront to our personal freedoms, gamblers will not comply, and as a result both the industries above are likely to find themselves in significant trouble.

The conclusion is that we must ‘wake up to that and shout ever louder’. It appears to argue that in order to preserve the freedom to gamble at any stake level we choose, without any check on our finances, the Gambling Commission must be defeated. 

What happens next?

I wonder how realistic this scenario is – is this struggle against the Gambling Commission a battle that can be won? Anybody would think that the UK is an outlier - the only country on the planet where a regulator would even think of restricting the right to bet. Nothing could be further from the truth. More than half the world’s population live in countries where online gambling is completely illegal.

Look closer to home if you want to understand what other government responses to gambling financial harms are available. In Germany or Belgium, for example, the government imposes a flat limit on losses that can be accrued in any given month with no exceptions. If you think this couldn’t happen in the UK – why not? 

Because here's the inconvenient truth: the anti-gambling lobby will never cease to exist. I am not in that group - I love racing. I love to have a bet and I want the best possible future for our industry. But they are out there and an industry that fails to protect customers who need to be protected is a sitting duck.

As a brief aside, I wonder how it sits with public opinion to insist, as Lee Mottershead does, that every ‘racing punter of any great significance’ occasionally loses more than £2,000 in the space of 90 days? What are we telling the broader public about our industry when we make claims like that?

The bottom line

Ultimately it is simple. The consultation represents the last chance saloon: an opportunity to be embraced, not a threat to be fought off.

When a customer loses a significant amount of money to an operator, we have two choices:

  1. Check they can afford to spend at their current level and then allow them to continue.
  2. Don’t check, and accept that stories of financial harm and sometimes personal tragedy in relation to gambling will continue to dominate the media.

I prefer option 1 because option 2 fails to solve the problem, and if we fail to solve the problem now, when we are being asked, the next time we will be told. We had the chance to restrict fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBTs) to a maximum stake, we didn’t take it and the government decided for us.

Let’s not make the same mistake again. Let’s not blunder towards arbitrary maximum limits on betting activity or (as is being proposed in Ireland) the elimination of gambling advertising on television, with subsequent loss of any coverage at all.

If we engage constructively with the consultation, we can build an industry where we minimise harm and maximise revenue. A properly sustainable industry that protects players but allows those who can afford to spend to do so.

Let’s do it.

This article was first published in Casino International