There has been a fair amount written over the past few months about the likely demand for bookmakers to run affordability checks on account holders as part of the Gambling Review White Paper.
The main driver for the white paper is to reduce the number of problem gamblers, which is obviously a good thing, as a gambling addiction is a terrible illness and its reduction should be a priority.
Judging by the ongoing commentary from some of those important folk in the industry who are close to the discussions, these affordability checks may be for anyone who has lost £100 or more in a month.
Bookmakers have already started requesting ID, bank statements, proof of address, P60 etc, which is more akin to someone applying for a mortgage of hundreds of thousands of pounds than someone wanting to place their own monies on a horse, football fixture, tennis match etc.
Personally, I will not be providing any of this information, although I have no issue in providing ID and proof of address as part of anti-money laundering (AML)/know your customer (KYC) requirements.
Having worked in senior roles within the financial services space for the past forty years, I realise the importance of AML/KYC legislation; however, this does and should not impact how I spend my hard-earned cash on a leisure activity.
I had an account with some bookmakers for thirty to forty years and have made a reasonable sum of money from betting on horses, and those bookmakers will have a clear idea that I am not and never have exhibited any problem gambling characteristics.
Bookmakers are paying for their past actions, and as a direct consequence racing is set to suffer more than any other sport.
Horse racing is directly funded through the betting levy on bookmaker income from racing, so any drop in bookmaker racing revenues will have a significant impact on racing revenues.
This is not the same for revenues on golf, football or any other sport.
Bookmakers' actions of closing winning accounts, restricting bets to a matter of pence regardless of how small the liability, while at the same time happily accepting large bets from habitual losing punters, has fired the zealous advocates of the Gambling Review.
Estimates of the impact of affordability checks on racing revenues are in the region of £80million to date, and this is before the white paper has been published.
Should the predicted checks be implemented, then further estimates of £400million have been bandied about.
I would go further than that - if the £100 loss limit is put in force, then racing as we know it could well collapse within the next decade, as bettors either go to illegal sites or stop betting altogether.
A common sense solution?
Surely there is a more sensible approach to reach the original aim of the white paper, which is to reduce problem gambling in the UK:
- All account holders should provide ID and proof of address (utility bill) to the account provider, and this should be an online upload process rather than manual (reducing cost impact on provider).
- Individuals to set monthly loss limits.
- Bookmakers made to accept all bets up to a liability of £500 without restriction through legislation.
- ·Bookmakers to use algorithm-based technology to identify problem gamblers and then seek additional information from them should they wish to continue betting.
Bookmakers already use this technology to identify winning bettors to close accounts and restrict bets, so why not use the same tools for a more positive impact?