British horseracing fears £60m hit from affordability checks

It is expected that racecourses will call on MPs to put pressure on the Gambling Commission.
It is expected that racecourses will call on MPs to put pressure on the Gambling Commission.

Senior figures in the sport fear the Gambling Commission’s proposed checks could present a major threat to horseracing’s finances.

UK.- British horseracing could lose £60m a year if new affordability checks are introduced for gamblers, senior figures fear.

A template letter addressed to members of parliament is circulating in the sport calling on lawmakers to put pressure on the Gambling Commission to rethink its proposals. 

The Gambling Commission is considering the possibility of introducing affordability checks for customers that suffer losses as low as £100 a month.

It is feared that such checks will lead punters to reduce the amount they gamble or to turn to unlicensed betting operators that do not enforce the checks.

The letter argues that betting on horseracing is “skill-based” and should be treated differently from casino-style gambling because it is less likely to trigger problem gambling.

The letter states: “I am reliably informed that the proposals put forward by the Gambling Commission could result in more than £60m in direct losses to the British racing industry from reduced Horserace Betting Levy and media rights income.

“This would be amplified many times over through the wider rural economy and potentially lead to racecourses closing.

“The Gambling Commission’s proposed action would be disproportionate to the small number of people who suffer harm from betting on racing, as well as being a very significant invasion on personal liberty in the free society in which we live.

“At a time when racing and the British economy are trying to recover from Covid-19, a rushed intervention like this would also significantly set back recovery.

“Naturally, I have grave concerns about this and would welcome your support in calling for the Gambling Commission to rethink introducing this measure, ensure it is evidence-based and, at the very least, ensure that the decision-making process aligns with the government’s recently launched review of the Gambling Act.”

The letter is unsigned but according to the Guardian newspaper was drafted with the agreement of senior figures in British horseracing. It is believed that Britain’s 59 racecourses will send the letter to their respective MPs.

Increasing threats to horseracing’s finances

Nick Rust, who concluded his tenure as chief executive of the British Horseracing Association last month, had already expressed concerns that affordability checks could seriously harm the finances of the industry at a time when it is already struggling due to the impact of Covid-19 measures.

Rust said in an interview with Racing Post: “I’ve seen some initial data suggesting that at one major operator 36 per cent of customers would be affected by [the affordability checks].

“We want to support responsible betting and we don’t want to earn any revenue from people who are spending beyond their means. However, it feels to me that we’re in danger of trying to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“We will certainly be putting evidence in as the BHA, and I’m inclined to write privately after I’ve left the BHA and give my views as well, because I think there’s a real danger on this and the sport needs to be alive to it.”

Gambling Commission consultation extended

The Gambling Commission has extended the deadline on its consultation over customer interaction requirements to February 9 due to the high level of response to the proposals.

A spokesman for the commission told the Guardian that affordability checks were necessary due to the failings of some online betting firms.

The commission said:  “Whilst some operators have continued to improve their customer interaction processes, our evidence shows that many online operators are not setting thresholds for action at appropriate levels. They are not taking the appropriate action or acting quickly enough when they do identify risks of potential harm.

“We are clear on the need for gambling companies to take further action and our consultation proposes that the commission sets firm requirements to ensure consistent standards. 

“But we want to have an open discussion with the gambling industry, consumers, people with lived experience and other stakeholders to ensure we strike the right balance between allowing consumer freedom and ensuring that there are protections in place to prevent gambling harm.”

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