Conservative MP Slams 'Tug-of-War' over Affordability Checks on UK Punters

Law & Politics Business
Rob Simmons

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Rob Simmons

Last Updated on 14th March 2024, 07:22 AM

Conservative MP Slams 'Tug-of-War' over Affordability Checks on UK Punters

UK bettors are being caught in a “tug-of-war” between the well-funded betting industry and well-funded anti-gambling campaigners over proposed affordability checks, according to Conservative MP Philip Davies.

Davies spoke as part of a UK parliamentary debate Monday night on financial risk checks for gambling. MPs from both sides of the aisle assembled in Westminster Hall to hear the case from the gambling industry, which is against the affordability checks, those seeking to implement the checks, and punters themselves.

In the debate, Davies slammed the government for snobbishly treating punters as “some kind of pariah” when it comes to the checks, questioning why freedom of choice to gamble was now being supplanted.

“It is unacceptable that the Government, the Gambling Commission and the bookmakers will basically, between them, decide how much each individual punter can afford to spend on their betting, and the punter gets virtually no say whatsoever,” Davies said.

“It is completely outrageous. The Conservative party used to believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility, and some of us still do.” 

As an alternative to stringent affordability checks, the Conservative MP suggested that bettors could instead enter how much they want to limit their spend over a fixed period. 

The responsibility, Davies suggested to not go over that amount would rest with the bookmaker – but with the bookie not playing any part in determining how much the punter can afford to gamble.

Friction Over Frictionless

The government has pledged to introduce so-called “frictionless” player protection checks on UK gamblers aimed at protecting at-risk players before unaffordable or harmful losses are incurred. 

Ths includes two forms of financial risk checks, checking “moderate” levels of spend as well as checking bankruptcy and county court judgments against individuals.

Moderate gambling spenders will be subject to a financial risk check after a £125 net loss within 30 days or £500 within a year. At higher levels of spending, checks will kick in on those who lose over £1,000 or more per day, or more than £2,000 over 90 days. 

In addition, affordability trigger levels for those aged 18 to 24 will be halved, based on the increased risk of gambling-related harm for this age group.

Forcing the Issue

Monday night’s debate was forced by a petition by Jockey Club CEO Nevin Truesdale.

Truesdale kicked off the petition in November 2023, seeking the abandonment of the checks, which include assessing whether people are “at risk of harm” based on their postcode or job title – branding them “inappropriate and discriminatory.”

Under UK law, when a petition reaches over 100,000 signatures, Parliament is required to debate the issue at hand, with the petition in question currently standing at 103,041 signatures, and not due to close until May.

The Jockey Club has said affordability checks could cost the racing industry £250m over the next five years. The Jockey Club also claimed bettors may have to prove they can afford their hobby if they lose as little as £1.37 per day.

Addressing the debate, the MP for Shipley decried the UK bookmaking industry for having an inconsistent approach to things like stake restrictions while at the same time restricting the stakes of punters who back winners.

“I have warned them time and again that trying to have their cake and eat it on punter restrictions would backfire,” Davies said. “Until they abandon that anti-punter mentality, what they say on this issue will always be subject to some level of ridicule.” 

However, Davies then turned his guns on the UK government and the Gambling Commission, asserting their shared belief that there was something “inherently distasteful” about betting, challenging the government to prove its stance.

He suggested that retailers around the country should carry out similar checks on shoppers to ensure they can afford to buy whatever they come to the counter with.

“Is the Minister really claiming that nobody spends more on alcohol than is good for them, more on shoes than they should, or more on holidays than they can actually afford?” Davies questioned.

Horseracing vs. Lottery

Addressing the stated aim of reducing problem gambling in the UK, Davies suggested that at risk UK players would turn to the black market for their gambling should the affordability checks be introduced. 

Another casualty, Davies said, would be the UK horseracing, noting that the industry accounts for up to £500m that goes to rural economies. 

Davies claimed the government had gone too far to abandon the checks entirely, as called for in the Truesdale petition. He instead urged for a redefinition of checking methods to differentiate games of skill (such as poker and sports betting) from games of chance (slots and roulette).

Calling for the exclusion of horseracing from any checks, Davies asked for an explanation from the government over the potential exclusion of the National Lottery.

“Not including the national lottery in such measures would indicate a disregard for the people losing money and an interest only in the people winning money,” Davies said. “If the concern is about problem gamblers, why is it okay if they have lost all their money to the lottery, just because that money goes to good causes rather than bookmakers? The national lottery must be included in all the measures in the White Paper.”

The Tory MP concluded by urging the Government to ensure the Horseracing industry would not be threatened by potential affordability checks, while also urging it to stand up for individual player freedom and responsibility.

“It is not too late to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat,” Davies said to punctuate the matter. 

No timetable has been set for the introduction of these checks which would run on a pilot-scheme style basis. However, recent proposals to introduce stake limits for online slots play are scheduled to come into force in September, throwing up the prospect of a 2024 introduction.

(Image: PA Images / Alamy)

Meet The Author

Rob Simmons
Rob Simmons

Rob started out in journalism as a staff writer for Gambling Insider, before moving to EGR in 2018 where he wrote about diverse subjects including regulation, sports betting, igaming and the legislative expansion of sports betting across the US market. A keen blogger and freelance writer, Rob also studies Krav Maga and enjoys cinema, science-fiction conventions and supporting Tottenham Hotspur.

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