Black market gambling is something that has always existed. It will likely continue to exist as the years roll on, too. The UK Gambling Commission has tried its best to curb how many people utilise such sites. Yet there is only so much it can do. While official and licensed sportsbooks and casinos do exist, the unlicensed ones remain. There may be a certain amount of appeal at those platforms. Yet anyone joining and depositing at them isn’t protected in the same way. With a licensed brand, players and their details remain safe and secure.
Unfortunately, the increase in the severity of regulations is pushing more people away. This leads them to black market gambling sites instead. They are not licensed, so they don’t have to adhere to such regulations and restrictions. Players can sign up for accounts and start betting within a quick timeframe. They also aren’t as restricted with verifying accounts. Yet black market operators are often providing scam services, too.
Despite this, traffic to black market sites increased during the World Cup in 2022. Data coming from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) displays triple the number of visitors. Gamblers at these unregulated sites arrived in masses to bet on the huge event. In December alone, 250,000 people visited unregulated platforms. That is a stark difference to the 80,000 total during December in 2021. A similar jump was also experienced in November 2022 in comparison to the previous year.
Is this what the future of online gambling looks like? Are people going to shun licensed and regulated platforms for black market ones? Could it get even worse if gambling reform takes place in the United Kingdom? After all, such reform could introduce difficult changes for operators and players. That could push people to the black market sites in bigger numbers.
Black Market Gambling Increases in 2022
Most of the black market sites available base themselves out of foreign locations. They do not own licences from the Gambling Commission of the UK. This is why they are not promoted or offered as safe sites to join. Plus, they are not registered with GamStop, as is the rule for licensed sites. GamStop allows addicts to ban themselves from online gambling platforms. This helps them handle their addiction and stay away from gambling online. Black market sites do not have such protections in place, though.
In November and December of 2022, 64,500 vulnerable players sought out black market sites. Betting at such platforms circumvents the GamStop service in a direct way. It wasn’t only during the World Cup that the number of visitors to such sites increased. Reports suggest that traffic peaked during Cheltenham Festival, which took place in March. This was also the case during Ascot in June.
Players have the ability to register, deposit and place a bet within 30 seconds at a black market site. At licensed sportsbooks, it takes an average of 12 minutes to do this. That’s because there are age verification checks, identity checks, and so on in place. This also helps to prevent problem gambling and fraud from taking place.
The research, commissioned by the BGC, exposes a “dire threat”, says Michael Dugher. The CEO of the BGC noted how much of an issue this is for punters, especially vulnerable people.
“While the regulated industry was going to great lengths to protect young people during the World Cup and adhering to strict regulations and promoting safer gambling, black market operators were praying on the vulnerable”.
He went on the highlight the lack of safer gambling tools at these unlicensed sites. He also said that they do not pay a penny in tax and have no employees most of the time. There is no contribution to sports or services that tackle gambling harm. He said that the data displays “a range of worrying gambling trends in the UK”. Dugher was quick to point out that this had little to do with the regulated sector. Instead, it was the unsafe, unregulated black market that he pointed out.
Dugher finished off by saying that the government has not been serious enough about the black market. What he defines as a real threat seems to be of little concern. Yet he wants the powers that be to resist what he called “blanket intrusive affordability checks”. As part of gambling reform, this is a process that could become the norm. Yet Dugher believes this will likely push even more punters to the unlicensed sites.
In quite an odd stark contrast, the number of betting ads on TV during the World Cup decreased. In the group stages, 34% fewer adverts than for the 2018 World Cup appeared. Commercials for regulated operators are not allowed to air five minutes before a match. They also cannot appear until at least five minutes after it ends. This relates to the pre-watershed period. It was in 2018 that gambling firms agreed to this proposition. Since its introduction, commercials promoting gambling have fallen in a considerable way. Because of this, the number of ads seen by children has dropped by 97%.
Potential Changes to Enforce Stricter Regulation in the UK Gambling Industry
Gambling reform has been on the cards for the UK for a few years now. Anti-gambling campaigners have requested a change in legislation. With more and more people becoming addicted to gambling, it has led to a boom in problems. One of the major issues surrounding this is gamblers getting too deep into debt. This leads to some stealing money from family or even from their workplace.
Such was the case in 2022 for one woman from Crewe. Tracey Holgate, 40, set up an online banking account for her grandmother. Through that, she stole £30,000 in total. Over a six-year period, she spent at least half that money on gambling sites. Her heartbroken grandmother said that Holgate is in “complete denial” about her addiction.
The thefts left the pensioner so poor that she couldn’t pay her household utility bill. The fraud was only uncovered when her son Brian became suspicious. He would proceed with obtaining statements, which displayed thousands of illicit bank transfers. Holgate denied the fraud to begin with but altered her plea to guilty at a later time. She received a 23-month suspended sentence.
That is one of several instances where people have proceeded with theft to fund their habit. The NHS is under extra strain with having to treat the problem as an addiction, too. Families of people suffering with it suffer alongside them. Some addicts have even ended up taking their own lives after seeing no way out. In 2017, a 24-year-old Sheffield man committed suicide after developing an addiction to gambling. His parents argued that government failures contributed to his death.
With such instances appearing in the news more and more, people took action. Campaigners called on the government to overhaul the country’s gambling laws. At the moment, the industry adheres to the Gambling Act 2005. Yet campaigners argue that this is now out of date for the modern, digital age. Instead, they want legislation to go through an update so it fits the online era in an effective way.
Towards the end of 2020, the government did launch a review of the gambling laws. The idea behind this was to decide if the laws were fit for the 2020s and beyond. As a result of this review, changes to the legislation were rumoured to be on the horizon.
The announcement of a white paper featuring information on the changes came in 2021. An initial release date for its publication was also given. This never came to fruition, and the government scheduled a later date. Unfortunately, a series of other delays meant that it should have come out in 2022. Postponements happened again and again, and it still has not arrived.
Even so, the initial announcement started rumours about what would be in the white paper. News reports highlighted a variety of changes that gambling reform could introduce. One of those was the affordability checks spoken of earlier. This would mean players have to submit private bank statements to gambling sites. In doing so, they would prove that they can afford to deposit and play with such funds. Other potential proposals within the white paper include:
- A ban on the sponsorship of football clubs by gambling companies.
- Maximum bet reductions on online casino games.
- Mandatory deposit limits for online gamblers.
- Removal of quick spins on casino games.
- The ban of free bets at online sportsbooks.
- Removal of any kind of VIP schemes.
Could the Changes Cause Even More Problems?
Gambling reform is something that countries do look at every so often. Yet the proposed changes in the UK do seem quite drastic. It has had a liberal gambling market ever since the Gambling Act 2005 came into effect. Through this, the government has brought in a mass of revenue via taxes. Thus, the likelihood is that it won’t want to miss out on a large chunk of that by changing too much. Yet there is the issue of the black market to consider as well.
Increasing concerns towards people visiting these sites has occurred. Not only has the BGC CEO highlighted it in recent times, but the data also displays it. The time during the World Cup, Cheltenham and Ascot are a few instances of this. Could it be that those numbers will continue to increase in the future? After all, confinement is something that people don’t like, in general. Something that has been so liberal for such a long time having limitations on it is likely to suffer. Gamblers won’t be able to enjoy their favourite pastime in the same way with new rules.
With this being the case, if they can access betting quicker and simpler, why wouldn’t they? Black market sites so often provide various betting markets and simple sign-ups. Deposits are also quick and the ability to receive promotions from them remains. It’s just that, as noted, they don’t have the same protections in place.
Back in May of 2022, The Telegraph reported on “draconian gambling rules“ being a risk. It said that players would likely turn to the black market by choice as a result. When compared to those countries that have cracked down on gambling, Britain’s problem gambling rate is lower. Yet the freedom that people currently have to have a punt is, it said, “under threat”. It said that prohibitionists are the ones determined to make betting a victim of the nanny state.
It’s not only that, though. The regulated betting industry in the UK supports 119,000 jobs. It also generates £4.5 billion in tax, while contributing £7.7 billion to the country’s economy. Many of the UK’s favourite sports are also supported by it. Without gambling, the COVID-19 pandemic could have had a much worse impact on them. Yet The Telegraph was also quick to highlight that if the government messes up reform, it is risking a lot.
Global black market gambling already rakes in billions of pounds every year. There is double the amount of people gambling at unlicensed sites than a few years ago. Britain could also learn from other countries, though.
Strict regulations on gambling came into force in places like Norway, France, Italy et al. All these locations experienced spikes in black market site usage afterwards. While the regulations were there to prevent gambling harm, they may have caused it even more. The likelihood is that they weren’t expecting, nor wishing for that to be the case. Yet 1.4% of Norway’s population are problem gamblers. It’s 1.6% of the population in France. Compare that with Britain, which is down to 0.2%, as of 2022.
Rising standards within the gambling industry has forced this reduction. With gambling reform still on the horizon (apparently), could this be a catalyst for the black market? Could the future be one where the unlicensed industry acquires more custom? Could it even leave the regulated sector behind? Players don’t like restrictions on what they can and can’t do. At the same time, there is a potential need for more modern laws. The government needs to consider its next moves in a very careful way.