Let’s be clear, this seminar doesn’t mean that every punter will be able to get their bets on soon or ever. Does it, therefore mean it was useless; absolutely not.
A quick history concerning how the seminar came about: For many years a number of people have tried to raise the issue of the increasing problem of account restrictions using many differing approaches. Despite their efforts they received little help from nearly all the media and in most cases; none. This is crucial when individuals are trying to fight the media power of large corporations.
At times you need some luck and a set of circumstances to come together. We have to assume the APPG for Betting & Gaming were having concerns about account restrictions (effectively account closures); the Horse Bettors Forum (HBF) was established and so was ‘Justice for Punters’, but neither project began this campaign, we were simply taking up an issue that others had already done sterling work on. J4P is not interested in who does what and who claims to have had the most influence; we’re interested in the gambling industry offering a fair deal to its customers.
Having said all that there is no question that a local surgery meeting between Philip Davies MP and a recreational, but serious punter, was the glue that stuck together a number of factors that led to this seminar. The punter who is well known to J4P, in fact does some voluntary work for us, wishes to remain anonymous, so we will respect that.
Anyway, we got there and around 50 people turned up. Of course the seating plan was very British. The MPs and Lords sat at the front and the rest of us sat in the cheap seats. One or two ‘ordinary types’ did manage to sit near the front and I’m not referring to the speakers.
The crowd was similar to a horse racing crowd in the member’s enclosure, mainly male with three or four females, most over 35 and dressed for a funeral. This was not a time for males to be wearing shorts or light coloured clothing.
Philip Davies MP opened the meeting after it was ascertained that nobody from the organising team knew how to work the microphones. When you’re in the cheap seats and your colleague is a tad hard of hearing this is not good news, but we got through without the need for raised voices at inappropriate times.
The first speaker was Simon Rowlands, the Chair of the Horse Bettors Forum. You can read what he said in full here: http://ukhbf.org/transcript-of-hbf-speech-to-apbgg-23rd-january-2018/
A fair amount of what Richard Flint, the CEO at SkyBet and Brue Millington, the Editor of the Racing Post said can be found here: https://www.racingpost.com/news/news/are-bookmakers-unfairly-closing-customer-accounts-views-from-tuesday-s-debate/316874?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Wednesday%20News&utm_content=Speeches
J4P is not going to analyse what each person said in detail, because for us that is not important and you the reader can do it yourself anyway on the above url links. Much more important is what did the two people from J4P think about the seminar overall and where we go next.
Yesterday was an important day in the campaign for a minimum bet/liability law. To our knowledge a similar event has never happened in the Houses of Parliament.
It was clear that the APPG members were all against the present trading practices of the industry concerning account restrictions. In their differing ways they saw blanket, inflexible account restrictions, especially when applied to smaller punters (those staking under £50 on single win/£25 ew bets) as unfair trading. Unless, there is a change of heart for whatever reason it was obvious that the betting customer will get support from the APPG in future discussions. We think it is fair to say that the betting customer did not know this before yesterday; in fact, we suspect many would have thought the opposite.
It was clear that Richard Flint and the APPG members felt the industry needed to do much more to improve its image, which has been wrecked by recent events, including the topic of account restrictions. This is a major headache for anybody that accepts gambling should be legal, but regulated in a way that ensures it is ‘fair and open’, which it presently is not. J4P views this as an industry wide issue, disappointingly Richard Flint hinted that it was unlikely to be dealt with in an industry co-ordinated way and this was confirmed by Simon Rowlands when he revealed how the HBF had been treated by the Association of British Bookmakers and the Remote Gambling Association, i.e. with disdain. J4P has strong views on this. All our volunteers have differing professional and work backgrounds and it’s fair to say that we all agree that other large industries would be dealing with the present debacle in a more proactive, co-ordinated way. One would have thought that crashing share prices, despite very good profitability for some, might have generated closer working between companies on how the industry operates as a whole. Sure the company PR and marketing staff are all about, ‘my product is better than yours’, but at senior director level, sensible companies in an industry meet and address the practical and image problems for their industry as a whole. A minimum bet/liability law is something that could be a win/win for all concerned; horse racing, other sports, government, sports betting customers, so long as social responsibility measures are adhered to and the gambling industry. Australia is already proving this for horse racing. However, it is only fair to admit that a horse racing levy based on bookmaker profits from racing as opposed to a levy on betting turnover is a major hurdle that needs addressing in the UK.
J4P made it clear in the meeting that some gambling companies needed to distance themselves from others who, let’s say, commit regular injustices from opening an account right through to not paying out or even taking (stealing?) money from dormant accounts. There is an opportunity for a group of successful companies, of which SkyBet is one, to secure their future growth and profitability by adhering to an industry Charter (standards of trading). This Charter would not be created by J4P or HBF, but by the industry. It would hopefully address most of what the J4P and HBF Charters outline. Among others things this Charter would address account restrictions and more transparency. The latter being a topic that Richard Flint spoke enthusiastically about after admitting SkyBet and the industry in general lacked transparency in their dealings with customers. J4P believes the industry could improve transparency massively from a very low starting point.
Perhaps the major positive aspect of the seminar was the apparent willingness of Richard Flint to engage with all concerned to discuss the possibilities of how a minimum bet/liability law or something similar may work in the UK (and hopefully Ireland).
Like any event there was negatives, some of which we’ve touched on already. There wasn’t a guest list, so for those of us who don’t spend all our life around the higher echelons of racing and betting circles you didn’t know who was present, but we doubt the room was full of secret agents from the wider gambling industry; ‘heads and sand’ come to mind and of course there was serious work to do lobbying on the FOBT issue on Tuesday, which is a far greater danger to profits than a few winning punters and what the hell to do with them.
There was disagreement on the effects of arbing on any minimum bet/liability law. Multi-accounting was touched on, but not addressed properly, except to mention that customers might be committing fraud, but let’s not forget the possible illegal practices that gambling companies use in this ‘game’ of my IT skills are better than yours. An interesting anecdote on this topic concerned Patrick Veitch. J4P is not claiming this is true, but it was said in the room that Patrick Veitch claims he can still get all his bets on, despite bookmakers becoming very good at stopping less successful punters and some likely long term losing punters from betting. We hope you can see the irony?
A final negative was time, because there was so much more to say and challenge, e.g. some of the figures quoted, but time catches up with everyone, therefore the offer of future discussion has to be grasped with both hands, even a set of mole grips, because that’s what is needed.
This was a big day in the discussion of how gambling companies deal with account restrictions. It will not be a solution, but it may open doors towards a more rapid solution?
The APPG, HBF and SkyBet must move forward quickly in their discussions. Hopefully, there will be a seat at the table for J4P? J4P would also like to see other gambling companies, the Gambling Commission, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and certain sporting bodies at that table, which then provides the best chance ever to make betting on sports ‘fair and open’ again. So long as certain principles are adhered too, most of which have been mentioned already, it is a win/win for everyone.
An apology for not claiming instant ideal outcomes from one day, but that is the truth. However, the opportunity this day has generated must not be missed, because it isn’t like buses, there won’t be another chance coming along anytime soon within the corridors of power.