People will likely remember the World Cup in 2022 for various things and unfortunately many of these memories will be quite negative on the whole. The entire tournament ended up marred in controversy from the get-go. Many questioned the human rights laws in the host country, issues came up over the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, then came information about the deaths of workers there from foreign countries.
There were rule changes that seemed to come about by demand from Qatar, too. This included making a U-turn on the sale of alcohol to fans at stadiums. Before that, the country demanded the tournament move to November, then, it requested the event start on a specific day so the Qatari team could get practice in. It seems like very little positive news came from the 2022 World Cup hosted by Qatar – although no one can argue the football itself, in particular the final, was fantastic.
Now, it appears other negative after-effects are coming to light. According to research commissioned by the Betting and Gaming Council, a rise in visits to black market sites occurred. During the time when the World Cup was taking place, gamblers sought out alternatives and this saw them register, deposit and bet at unlicensed, unregulated sportsbooks.
In fact, the number of people using unregulated bookies during that time tripled in the UK. This means that around 250,000 people were utilising their services at the end of 2022. In the same period of 2021, a figure of 80,000 users is on record. Yet the same rules that check licensed sites are not in place at these platforms and gamblers are not protected against rogue betting operators. That could have terrible knock-on effects in the coming months and years.
For example, those betting with unlicensed sites have almost no legal protections. If they steal you money, refuse to pay you out or even worse sell on your personal information it is difficult to do anything about it. Unfortunately the UKGC cannot stop all unlicensed sites from accepting UK customers and as the law stands currently the onus is on the customer to check they are betting with a licensed operator.
Unlicensed sites often seem more attractive because they offer crazy offers or better odds. They can only do this because thye don’t pay tax, don’t enforce safe gambling and frankly don’t care about your wellbeing whatsoever. As with most things in life if it is too good to be true it probably is, but yet people are still flocking to unlicensed sites by the looks of things.
The betting sites that hold licences from the UK Gambling Commission are also part of GamStop. This service allows addicts to block themselves from gambling sites. That’s not the case for those operators who do not own such a licence. Players are put into a vulnerable state, unable to seek out such help. During November and December, about 64,500 vulnerable players sought out black market sites. Through their platforms, they provide sports betting which gets around exclusion services.
Advertising Services to Problem Gamblers on the Rise
The research, conducted by Yield Sec, also uncovered other disturbing figures. The number of sites advertising their services to problem gamblers also climbed. This rose by 83%, marketing to those people who had self-excluded via GamStop. Peaks in black market traffic did occur during March and June of 2022. Of course, major horse racing events were taking place at that time, such as Cheltenham.
Yet the results of the investigation raised the eyebrows of more than a few people. The CEO of the BGC, Michael Dugher, said:
“This research exposes the dire threat the growing unsafe, unregulated black market poses to punters”.
During the World Cup, a lot of effort went into making sure gamblers were safe. Of course, that occurred via regulated operators. They adhered to strict regulations and promoted responsible gambling. Unfortunately, black market operators chose to prey on the vulnerable players.
“This data shows the World Cup drove a range of worrying gambling trends in the UK”, Dugher continued. In an official statement from the BGC, it highlighted the 46% rise in black market site visits in 2022. This, it said, means around 148,000 customers were visiting such sites per month.
It takes less than 30 seconds to register at a black market gambling site, says the BGC. A first bet can also take place in under one minute. It takes an average of 12 minutes to sign up and place a first wager via a regulated site. This is because bookies need to conduct proper identity and age checks on players. This is in place to prevent problem gambling and any attempts at fraud.
“There has been too much complacency about the threat of the black market”, said Dugher. “Rather than dismissing the problem, the regulator and the Government need to tread extremely carefully…”. He then went on to highlight that there needs to be a resistance to blanket affordability checks. This, Dugher said, is likely to push even more people at low levels to unregulated sites.
Industry Stands Firm Against Affordability Checks
It’s not only Dugher who is fighting against severe gambling reform for the UK. The gambling industry itself has been fighting back against it in large numbers.
Affordability checks exist as one of the big issues that gambling reform could introduce. Yet licensed gambling operators highlight it as being a huge problem if it does become law. Affordability checks will likely be an inconvenient and intrusive process for many and rather than go ahead and submit private documents, they may go elsewhere. The likelihood is that this will see more people join unlicensed sites with more regulation. Through these platforms, they can register for an account, deposit and bet with ease. No such checks have to take place.
It is one of the greatest challenges gambling reform faces. Reforms are designed to help protect the vulnerable but the internet is global and it is almost impossible to block unlicensed sites without China levels of internet enforcement (which no one wants). In trying to protect those most at risk reforms could have the effect of driving more of those people to unlicensed alternatives. The UK gambling industry isn’t exactly completely safe now, hence the calls for reform and the immanent white paper, but at least people have protections on licensed sites now. There is no protection at all with an unlicensed operator.
The problem with these black market sites is their lack of player protection, as noted. Vulnerable people are likely to end up in a space that they will find it harder to escape from. Problem gambling has been a huge focus for the UK Gambling Commission recently and midway through 2022, figures suggested that problem gamblers had declined in the country by 0.2%, yet the number is on the rise again.
Tougher regulations, affordability checks, stake & loss limits and other ideas that have been proposed will undoubtably reduce problem gambling with licensed operators. This will see the statistics go down in that regard. What it will be harder to check is how many vulnerable gamblers move to unlicensed brands as an alternative. Unless these people self-report their problems there will be little way to track them.
Things remain very uncertain in the UK gambling industry for now, though. A white paper on that gambling reform should have been available months ago. Yet various issues within the country’s political status delayed it time and again. A December 2022 publication never came to fruition. Now it seems that Q1 of 2023 is the expected time for it to appear. Until publication occurs, the industry remains in limbo over potential changes. That’s not good for the gambling sector or gamblers themselves.