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Gambling review

Government seeking 'consistency' around affordability checks as interim measure - RCA chief

MPs are likely to vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal for a third time this week
The government is seeking a consistent approach to affordability checksCredit: Dan Kitwood

The UK government is hoping a uniform approach to affordability checks can be found while the wait goes on for a truly frictionless system to be developed for the controversial checks, according to Racecourse Association chief executive David Armstrong.

Last month Arena Racing Company (Arc) chief executive Martin Cruddace told culture secretary Lucy Frazer that from the figures the sport had seen, affordability checks already introduced by operators in anticipation of the government's gambling review had resulted in more than £1 billion of online betting turnover on British racing being lost since 2021.

Gambling minister Stuart Andrew told the House of Commons on Thursday morning that the current system was "inconsistent" and that "we want to bring some uniformity to that". Andrew's comments came after ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had held a number of meetings with representatives of both the racing and gambling industries, along with the Gambling Commission.

Armstrong said that while a system of frictionless checks was thought to be close for the lower tier of affordability checks proposed in the government's white paper, that is not the case for the enhanced checks at higher levels of spend due to issues surrounding the sharing of data and GDPR rules.

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The government has also said that such a system would have to be piloted before it officially comes into force.

Armstrong said: "The interim period is about consistency because the problem often quoted is that different bookmakers are employing different affordability checks at the moment with no specific guidance from the Gambling Commission. That is obviously a great frustration for customers and causes lots of confusion in the market place.

"What DCMS has been doing is trying to persuade bookmakers through the Gambling Commission and the Betting and Gaming Council to come up with a common code for how affordability checks will work in this interim period, until the frictionless checks have been piloted and are ready."

Armstrong said racing's leaders wanted to see that frictionless checks worked in reality. He added: "We want to see a pilot done which I think is the right thing to do. You do that with any new system.

"The message we were getting was about consistency. The good point is that it means DCMS has realised that bookmakers have already implemented affordability checks and therefore are causing financial harm to horseracing."

David Armstrong says the inclusion of Paddy Desmond in the project team is making a real difference
David Armstrong: "Interim period is about consistency"Credit: Edward Whitaker

Andrew's earlier comments came in response to a question from Louie French, the Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who told the minister that he would "be aware that many racegoers and people who work in a variety of jobs across the sector are concerned that increased affordability checks could have a detrimental impact on British horseracing".

French asked: "What assurances can he provide that affordability checks will not be intrusive and that millions of hard-working Brits will still be free to safely enjoy the great British tradition of a day at the races?"

Andrew said ministers recognised the relationship between betting and racing and promised that the government had "no intention of over-regulating".

He added: "In fact, it is the current system that is inconsistent, and we want to bring some uniformity to that. We have had several meetings with racing stakeholders, the gambling industry and the Gambling Commission this week.

"We have been very clear that we will not mandate checks until we are confident they are frictionless and that the majority of those who enjoy gambling safely can continue to do so, whilst at the same time protecting those who may enter gambling harm."

Andrew also said that horseracing was an "integral part of British sporting culture" and that the government recognised "the significant contribution the sport makes to the economy".

Comment: consistent approach would be a crumb of comfort for punters

Gambling minister Stuart Andrew reiterated the government's pledge to only introduce affordability checks when they were truly frictionless in the House of Commons on Thursday morning.

For racing and those who bet on it that raises a number of questions, two of the most important being: how long will that take and what will happen in the interim?

A frictionless check at the lower level is said to be relatively simple to institute but it is at the higher tier for greater levels of loss where issues remain due to rules surrounding the sharing of data. Even when those issues are worked through there will be a further delay as the promised trial of a new system is gone through and then evaluated.

The government hopes all the measures outlined in its gambling white paper in April will be in place by next summer but that looks optimistic when it comes to the higher level of affordability checks. In the meantime some of racing's betting customers will continue to be subject to intrusive checks, with a consequent impact on British racing's income, unless something is done.

Stuart Andrew is set to take on ministerial responsibility for gambling
Stuart Andrew: acknowledged affordability checks were causing problems

The Gambling Commission has always denied mandating the checks that have been taking place in recent years but Andrew's comments on Thursday acknowledged the problems they are causing, both for customers and the sport, which is seeing sharp declines in betting revenue.

From a punters' perspective, if the government is not yet willing to scrap the idea altogether, a consistent and transparent approach from both bookmakers and the Gambling Commission might provide some degree of respite.

Punters and the racing industry are being called on to sign a petition calling on the government to stop the implementation of affordability checks. You can sign the petition here.

Read these next:

'It needs to be supported' - leading owner Ged Mason backs Cheltenham push for 100,000 petition signatures 

Owners' chief warns of 'disastrous' consequences of affordability checks and urges petition sign-ups 

Gambling Commission resorts to straw man arguments as it tries to stifle debate on affordability checks 

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Bill BarberIndustry editor

Published on 16 November 2023inGambling review

Last updated 19:30, 16 November 2023