OpinionLee Mottershead

Racing must react as another leading punter says no to affordability checks

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Senior writer
Cheltenham betting ring: reportedly busy on Tuesday
More and more punters are being confronted by affordability checks - many will continue to turn away from racing as a resultCredit: Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images

It was a sound that came out of nowhere, a spontaneous reaction that arrived with remarkable force. It was a sound caused by Scampi and the thrill that comes from picking a winner.

We had just witnessed the first of what later became three photo-finishes on a Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup card that was as enjoyable as any I can remember. Hollie Doyle had gone clear on Wootton'Sun. Saffie Osborne had chased her down aboard Scampi. The two horses flashed past the post almost as one. A crowd that totalled nearly 25,000 waited eagerly for judge Emily Jones to announce the result. When she did, Ascot seemed to erupt.  

You do not expect 11-2 winners to get such a powerful reaction, one that exceeded any heard at this year's royal meeting. An important factor must have been Scampi's name. Had a Prawn Cocktail emerged victorious in similar circumstances, the response would also have been strong. Equally significant may have been the fact Scampi runs in the Raceshare colours and therefore has a huge number of enthusiastic owners. More than anything, however, it was the sound of lots of people celebrating a winning bet.

Saffie Osborne (purple cap) and Scampi edge out teammates Hollie Doyle (grey cap) Wootton'Sun
Scampi (near) got up close home to win at Ascot on Saturday, triggering a huge cheer from the large crowdCredit: Alan Crowhurst

Alan Potts knows that feeling well. Now 76 years old, he remains one of the most respected and celebrated professional punters. His book, Against The Crowd, changed the way many thought about betting on racing and led to Potts becoming an inspiration to serious punters. Now, as a result of affordability checks, he has decided the time has come for him to abandon most of his punting.

Having had bookmaker accounts closed or restricted – a fate suffered by so many who like to back horses – Potts has spent recent years concentrating mainly on Betfair. That will no longer be the case following a recent conversation with a Betfair employee, during which a customer of more than two decades was informed he needed to provide personal financial information. The request formed part of "a safer gambling check" that ended with the suspension of Potts' account. Like so many readers who have been contacting the Racing Post, Potts decided, perfectly reasonably, that he needed no outside party to determine whether he was betting safely.

Writing on the Betfair Forum, Potts said: "It seems that my finances need to be checked and unless I go along with this, my 'Budget Spend' (?) will be reduced. I've told the bloke on the chat thing to just close my account. So that's 22 years on here coming to an end. The Nanny State wins.

"My thanks and best wishes to all those I've corresponded with on here over the years. I shall miss the betting and I'll miss the forum, but life goes on and some principles are more important than a betting account.

"Good luck to those that remain, Alan."

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British racing depends on the support of those who spend the mostCredit: Edward Whitaker

They are going to need that luck. So is British horseracing.

Affordability checks are not a new thing. Bookmakers, fearful of incurring huge fines from the Gambling Commission, have already made demands of customers that led to numerous punters walking away from a hobby they have enjoyed for years. They have rightly taken offence at being asked to prove they can afford to bet. The outcome for racing has been the loss of millions of pounds in revenue.

Things are set to get worse. It is doubtful most racing industry insiders have realised just how serious the consequences will be.

The UK government's gambling white paper, published in April, set out plans for two tiers of financial risk checks, with the Gambling Commission subsequently launching a consultation into how these would be implemented. The dangerous and deluded proposals highlighted the breathtaking scale of the regulator's naivety and ignorance. It also left nobody in any doubt that the notion of "frictionless" checks is fanciful in the extreme.

Clear proof of the Gambling Commission's incomprehension was its assertion on Thursday that "just three per cent of accounts would be caught by enhanced checks". That could hardly be more misleading. The three per cent projection is one that considers all account holders, yet most accounts are practically dormant and held by individuals who might bet once or twice a year at most, perhaps only in the Grand National. Among active punters the number of people caught in the net of checks will be considerably greater than three per cent. Among racing punters that number will be much higher again.

 Gambling Commission: "Perhaps it's right. Maybe I do need protecting"
The Gambling Commission's projection that only three per cent of betting accounts will be subject to enhanced financial checks is misleading

Indeed, if you are a racing punter of any great significance it is inevitable you will need to prove you should be permitted to continue betting at your chosen level. The one-size-fits-all approach preferred by the Gambling Commission will ensure 100 per cent of racing's biggest punters are confronted by checks. 

These are punters who are essential to the funding of British racing. Some will follow the lead of Potts and interpret the checks as both a personal affront and an unwarranted attack on their civil liberties. Others might decide to cooperate but, due to the nature of punting, be unable to provide the necessary documentation. 

A significant percentage will be stripped out of a sport whose financial viability – including the delivery of prize-money – is dependent on the biggest punters, just as it is the biggest owners. Scampi's microshare owners are a wonderfully welcome addition to the sport, but those who spend the most are the ones upon whom racing is most critically reliant.

"I know I've been very lucky to have been playing the game during the best years possible," said Potts. "Starting out in the early 90s with a strong on-course market, no on-course tax and bookies with opinions, then living through the change to online with Betfair at the forefront, I've had a great life. If I never have another bet, it won't really matter. I'm just glad I'm not starting out in 2023."

The truth is people like Potts do matter. Racing must wake up to that and shout ever louder. As the clock ticks down, complacency is not an option.

  • How to respond to the Gambling Commission consultation: Views can be provided at this page. After completing the introductory questions, select 'Remote gambling: financial vulnerability and financial risk' from the 'Consultations contents page'. You may choose to answer as many or as few questions as you wish. Further Racing Post guidance on responding to the consultation can be found here.
  • The Racing Post wants to hear from you: What has been your experience of affordability checks since the white paper was published at the end of April, and what do you think of the government's proposals? Have affordability checks affected your betting behaviour?
    It's a chance for your voice to be heard. Email the Racing Post at editor@racingpost.com with the subject 'Affordability checks' to share your experiences, your thoughts about the government's proposals, and your contact details.

Read more:

Betfair founder Andrew Black: 'Spanish Inquisition' Gambling Commission needs overhaul  

Affordability checks explained and how to respond to the Gambling Commission consultation  

MP urges racing to make its case against 'crippling' Gambling Commission proposals  

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