There are so many changes occurring at the moment in the gambling world. Regulations have always been present, but only recently a new gambling review and potentially a new gambling act look set to shake up the rules once more.
One of the areas focused on has been affordability checks for gamblers. This requires online betting site to check into whether or not their players can afford their deposits and gambling at their sites. Making it the duty of the betting company to scrutinise your source of funds and affordability before allowing them to deposit and gamble. They may, for example, ask for bank statements to prove income and outgoings. Those against the rules say it is an invasive step and that people should be free to choose to take risks with their own money. Those for the new checks point to the growing number of problem gamblers online as justification for the move.
However, why is it that this sort of regulation is only necessary for gambling services? What about other things that are considered addictive as well? Nobody has to go through an affordability check when they buy cigarettes or alcohol, for example. Even video game loot boxes do not require you to go through an affordability check before being able to open them. Why is it that you can buy as much as you want of these products but not do as you please where gambling is concerned?
This is what we intend to look into today. With the government intending to overhaul the UK Gambling Act 2005, could even stricter regulations be brought into effect relating to this? And how is it possible that the government has not placed any focus on affordability of alcohol, loot boxes and so on?
Gambling Affordability Checks
How exactly does the gambling affordability process go? What do you have to do for this? Well, casinos and bookmakers could request that you send copies of bank statements to them. These will then be reviewed to see how much money you have coming in each week or month. If the casino believes that you can afford to lose the amount that you have deposited, you will be able to gamble with it. If not, then you will be restricted from doing so.
Of course, that information is very private and personal, and not everyone is comfortable with having to submit such details to an online casinobetting site. Usually you would only be asked for this type of information if applying for a large loan, like a mortgage. Not even a credit card application requires you to provide personal bank statements. For obvious reasons, this has led to some backlash from people who simply want to play casino games or place sports bets online but will be reluctant to send in the necessary documentation.
It was in November of 2020 that the UK government introduced a consultation and call for evidence on “remote customer interaction”. Through this, the regulatory body suggested that operators had the ability to identify customers who may end up being harmed by gambling. However, these same operators were not doing enough to prevent vulnerable people from this harm. Therefore, the Gambling Commission want to introduce the aforementioned affordability checks.
The idea for these checks would come to prominence when gamblers hit certain deposit or loss thresholds. However, little information was given as to how these deposit / loss threshold(s) will apply. A £100 monthly loss limit has been suggested in some quarters. In theory, if a gambler loses £100 in one month, for example, then they could be requested to submit copies of documents to prove that they can afford to lose more. Yet, the information may not only require a standard bank statement, they may require other valid information, such as savings, redundancy payouts, debt levels, inheritance and so on.
It is this that has led to some questioning whether this process would be a threat to civil liberties. Definitely one of the most controversial decisions to have been discussed as part of gambling reforms, both customers and sportsbooks/casinos could very much be heavily affected. Other items discussed have been comparatively more sensible, but affordability checks could certainly turn people away from online betting altogether. This is neither good for those people who like to partake in sports bets or the sportsbooks that provide such.
Why is it that the betting world is being singled out as the only addictive activity that requires affordability checks?
The Issues Surrounding Affordability Checks
If the proposed affordability checks come in when players reach a loss threshold of £100 each month, then this is likely to heavily affect such big-name brands. At the moment, companies have processes in place for checking if customers can afford to gamble at their sites. However, these only occur once a bettor has often lost thousands of pounds.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, who is the co-founder of Gamban (an app preventing gamblers from accessing online betting sites) suggested that 5% of British gamblers account for 60% of the profits from online gambling. While he dismissed the idea that affordability checks are invasive of customer privacy, it does underestimate the impact on gambling companies should they start collecting such sensitive data. Cousin also noted that the biggest issue comes from sportsbooks offering bettors access to casino games. He said that if there was no crossover and the two were offered via different platforms and websites, there would be no need for such tight affordability checks.
However, the discussion of the affordability checks being introduced sparked serious concerns from the horse racing industry. Spokespeople from within said that it could do serious damage to the business, suggesting that it could dent the industry by around £60 million in levy and income from media rights.
Other issues also present themselves. If, for example, a £100 soft loss limit is brought in how will bets placed in advance be calculated? If you place a £100 bet in January for something that doesn’t take place until June and then in June that bet loses, does that mean you have hit your loss limit for June, despite placing the bet in January? This and other concerns will need to be addressed before these rules come into place.
Why Only Gambling and Not Other Addictive Products?
While it is true that gambling addiction has had quite a serious impact on the UK healthcare sector, it is not the only addictive activity. In fact, both underage drinking and domestic abuse have increase significantly over the past two years, but the authorities have not put so much effort into quelling these. And when you consider that the country’s healthcare sector is also blighted by alcohol addiction and those who are suffering from countless diseases thanks to smoking cigarettes etc. why is gambling being specifically targeted?
Why is it plausible (and also considered quite fine) to introduce gambling affordability checks for someone wanting to spend £100 on slot machines, but not for someone who wants to smoke 20 cigarettes or drink a bottle of whisky per day?
According to studies, the UK gambling market is made up of about 3% of individuals who are responsible for problem gambling figures. Comparing that with the figures for problem drinkers in the UK, the share of problem gamblers is significantly lower. Yet, it is still possible for an 18-year-old to walk up to the bar and order bottle of expensive champagne. Little is done to both question the buyers age and ability to afford to drink.
The issue is that many problem gambling studies have actually been done by those who are opposed to it. Therefore, these studies have been specifically worked so as to entice responses that benefit their cause of having various forms of gambling blocked. That can question the validity and reliability of their research.
The founder and chairman of Matchroom Sports, Barry Hearn, has opposed the introduction of gambling affordability checks. He states that it will definitively have a negative effect on sports activity. While he is not necessarily against the introduction of certain regulations per se, he would prefer them to be common-sense approaches to such. Especially when betting and gambling are quite the vital part of the UK’s economy. Blanket bans do not seem to have been successful elsewhere, and instead have been looked at by people as a form of oppression instead of assistance. The introduction of the proposed affordability check also seems to cross that line between liberalness and oppression.
Unless the government is intending to introduce certain measures to check into how much people are spending on alcohol in bars and supermarkets or on cigarettes at the corner shop, for example, can they really justify the gambling affordability checks? While there is nothing wrong with wanting to protect gambling consumers, this feels very targeted when there are numerous other people addicted to other activities that require money that can lead to serious debt.
The government has published numerous reports on gambling addiction and where it primarily exists. For example, problem gambling is most common amongst younger people. 2% of boys aged 11-16 are considered problem gamblers. And while the 0.7% figure relating to girls aged 11-16 is lower than that of the boys, it remains more than double the number for any other female bracket. Additionally, problem gamblers are more in number in Scotland and Wales when compared with England.
Strikingly, within England, the addiction rate is higher in the North East and in the West Midlands at 1.1% each. London has a 0.9% share, but only 0.3% reside in the South East and 0.2% in the South West.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the government has not published any sort of alcohol-related addiction report since 2010. Therefore, figures surrounding this may well need looking at before an affordability check process is introduced to the gambling sector. Without doing so, the Gambling Commission and co. risk upsetting a lot of people, both players and operators of betting options alike.
Pros and Cons For Affordability Checks
The primary positive from this being introduced is that it reduces the level of gambling-related harm in the UK. Of course, there is nothing to say that this will be a resounding success, as what is there to stop someone from depositing money at an alternative casino or sportsbook if they fail a check at one site? Indeed, what is to stop someone betting with an unlicensed site where there are no affordability checks (or any protection at all)? Granted, that may be looking on the negative side of something positive coming from this, but it’s a legitimate question.
If strict affordability rules do come in then the likelihood is that online gambling sites will not bring in as much revenue. This would then lead to a reduction in the amount of tax that the government gets from gambling. With a reduction in people accessing, joining and depositing at such sites, traffic numbers will be lower. Could that result in some of the smaller casinos and sportsbooks closing their doors for good, thereby resulting in multiple employees losing their jobs?
And even so, if the figures that some analysts have suggested regarding the loss of earnings for such gambling sites are true, even the larger brands will be affected negatively. Paddy Power and Ladbrokes and so on are not going to enjoy losing out on such large revenue figures just because extreme affordability checks are brought into effect.
Yes, gambling addiction is a real thing. And yes, it is certainly something that needs to be tackled by the government. But are affordability checks of this nature the right way to go with it? Some people say yes, while many others are not quite as on board with the idea. What is to say that people will conform with supplying such information as well? Not everyone is happy about letting a stranger look at their bank details and other income streams.
Plus, with problem gambling in the UK actually being most prevalent in younger people between 11-16, this demographic should not even be accepted at online sites. Age verification should be focused on a lot more than affordability checks, some people say. This would help to clear away a percentage of those affected by gambling addiction, while allowing others who are of legal gambling age to wager up to and beyond £100 per month.