Ex-Minister Backs Industry Black-Market Warnings

January 21, 2022
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A Conservative former gambling minister and ex-secretary of state has defended the UK industry’s view that too-stringent affordability checks would drive players to offshore websites.

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A Conservative former gambling minister and ex-secretary of state has defended the UK industry’s view that too-stringent affordability checks would drive players to offshore websites.

John Whittingdale told members of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) that although affordability checks were unlikely to be as severe as some anti-gambling figures would like, the prospect of players abandoning licensed sites in the face of too-tight rules is not far-fetched.

“If you make it too hard for people to gamble in a safe way and [they] can afford to do so, then they will resent that, and therefore the danger of driving people towards the black market is a real one,” he said.

Whittingdale was speaking at the trade lobbying group’s third annual meeting in London on Thursday (January 20).

His speech followed the group’s release of survey results which said only 16 percent of bettors would submit to affordability checks that included access to bank accounts or wage slips.

About 58 percent said they would not submit, said the group, which commissioned the survey this month from YouGov.

The member of parliament said drones buzzing nearby racetracks were called to his attention by racing officials, drones that were likely collecting information for illicit purposes.

Likewise, betting data providers have warned of unauthorised illegal data feeds going to offshore sites, he said.

Gambling Commission officials have been sceptical of the idea that tightening checks would drive large numbers of players to the black market.

Current chief executive Andrew Rhodes has said the regulator would not condone “some sort of race to the bottom because someone else is worse”.

Current gambling minister Chris Philp said last month that although “robust” affordability checks are necessary, they should not be “unwelcome, disruptive and disproportionate to the risks”.

The BGC said it supported “further enhanced spending checks” if they were focused on problem gamblers or those at risk.

“Any changes introduced by the government must be balanced so that they rightly protect the vulnerable while not driving the vast majority who bet safely and responsible towards the unsafe black market online,” said BGC CEO Michael Dugher, a former Labour member of parliament.

The UK gambling industry has been anxious about an expected white paper that will launch a review of the 2005 Gambling Act, a document that has been delayed several times.

Officials are aiming to have the white paper ready before Easter, Whittingdale said.

But, in general, gambling is a low priority for the government, he said.

Since he left the position of secretary of state in 2016, there have been five secretaries and five gambling ministers, he said.

Still, civil servants in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport are experienced, and should give gambling issues fair scrutiny, Whittingdale said.

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