Will the UK finally see its Gambling Act (2005) review white paper during the week beginning Monday April 24th2023?
The excitement being shown by some on social media and in some specialist media seems to suggest, yes. What is all the excitement about though?
As a person who has given my time freely for 7-8 years to support punters (bettors, customers or whatever term you wish) in dispute with UK regulated gambling operators I hope what follows in this blog is inaccurate, but I doubt much of it will be.
The white paper review has been a farce, so it is likely nobody will be happy with what is published.
For years and especially in the last six months punters have been fed utter tripe about what to expect from the white paper. Most so called ‘experts’, who have been given a media platform, don’t seem to know what a white paper is. What betting customers will get next week, if it happens, is not a draft Parliamentary Bill or draft new legislation (crucial for any right to a bet in the UK). What punters will get, over at least the next 6-12 months, is a series of Gambling Commission (GC) consultations based on the outcomes of the white paper.
As many people know my particular betting interest is horse racing. What the racing media should have been doing is preparing racing’s customers to submit to these pending GC consultations. What we have seen is nothing of the sort. With a few exceptions, what punters have been fed is hyperbole and in some cases untruths, regularly in association with the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). I will say it again, the BGC is a trade body, not a punter’s friend and anyone who imagines otherwise is ill informed. It can be argued, how could preparations be made when nobody knows what will be in the white paper? Fair point, except we’ve been told continually by the ‘experts’ what will be in it and, more importantly, there have been leaks, so surely, there could have been serious discussions about how punters can plan for the inevitable future consultations.
What might we see in the white paper?
Whilst there are likely to be some decent white paper outcomes for those with a gambling disorder, there will be no panacea, because a panacea doesn’t exist. Again, people are regularly sold rubbish about what is and what can be done regarding gambling disorder. Whatever, if the white paper does dictate a consultation about maximum online stakes for slots and casino games like roulette, as seems likely, this should help some, not all, with a gambling disorder and everyone should welcome it. The government also needs to remember that most states in the USA that have legalised gambling have not legalised online casino games and slots. It’s the same in Australia and France. Why? The UK has one of the most liberal online gambling markets, which research suggests is pretty stupid. Over the last 5-6 years I’ve analysed data from many people who have destroyed their lives gambling in online casinos and playing slots, sometimes within 24 hours – significant changes in this area are required. That is why!
Of course, the ‘elephant in the room’ for horse racing and its punters (all sports betting punters) in the white paper is affordability. Horse racing benefits hugely from the losses of punters through the levy, so losing punters being faced with privacy intrusions, therefore possibly stopping betting on horses is a potential nightmare. Affordability is also a potential nightmare for those who are aspirational punters on any sports, the few genuine professional punters, traders and arbers/bonus hunters.
Massive note: Unlike most of the tripe that has been seen, heard or read about the white paper, I will be amazed if it contains any real specifics on affordability. Some media has read like everything has been decided and that many, if not all punters, will face severe intrusions into their personal finances. Again, I doubt there is little truth in this.
What has rarely been mentioned by those who benefit hugely from gambling company profits is that some of us have had our privacy intruded into for many years and without our permission, because gambling company privacy policies have rarely, if ever, told the truth.
Potential changes around gambling advertising have been frequently leaked, so there is no point adding much, except to say, it looks like the white paper will ‘bottle’ the big decisions. Perhaps the profits for many from advertising are seen as being far more important than children being protected from the bombardment of gambling adverts whilst watching football.
It’s possible that the argument has been won to move from a voluntary levy to raise funds for research, education and treatment concerning gambling disorder, to a compulsory levy. I suspect most punters will have no interest in this, but you should have. Addiction can affect anyone when certain things align in a person’s life, and that may be you. I respect many super-humans believe it could never happen to them, but I hope the same people might respect my opinion that they’re wrong.
This topic has split public health staff and the third sector. This split isn’t just about where money may go in the future, it’s also based on the history related to products like tobacco, alcohol and food. J4P has no interest in the monetary side as we have no income, except our own money, plus we are far from experts in public health and political lobbying, so it’s perhaps best not to say too much.
For the vast majority of punters the best outcome of the white paper should be a new gambling ombudsman. This seems a certainty and is something J4P has campaigned for since day one. The best outcomes from a new ombudsman aren’t certain though. The BGC already has their ‘sticky-fingers in the pie’. They’ve been lobbying behind the scenes, so it’s important punters and people who benefit from punters lobby also. As punters know well, only a few in the latter group can be relied upon, so again time for punters to plan.
Gambling consumers must be consulted on what a new ombudsman will look like, but gambling isn’t a logical world.
If you bet in aspirational, professional, trading or ‘mathematically no risk’ ways, now is the time to get your act together.
I might be wrong, but I strongly suspect that everyone will have a chance to contribute to a number of GC consultations, including one about affordability and the dangers of privacy intrusion this may (will) bring. I’m more than willing to be proved wrong, but I’ve yet to see anyone suggest a better way to avoid as much intrusion into one’s privacy as possible, when not losing betting on sports, as a minimum bet (liability) law. As mentioned already, this could not be achieved through the white paper, but it can still be achieved in other ways.
Punters are a fragmented group of people to say the least, so it is difficult for them to achieve any traction in the corridors of power. This isn’t helped when so called ‘punter friendly’ services are as likely to take the gambling company side as the punter side. People in power pick up on these things, therefore it is so easy for them to refute punter arguments when so called ‘friends’ of punters are not supportive of the same arguments.
Due to the abject failings of the gambling industry since the 2005 Act, the reality is that a new approach to the affordability to gamble is going to happen, so simply shouting, “I don’t want it,” being abusive on social media, or submitting to a consultation on the ‘back of a fag packet’ are a waste of time. Punters have to come up with their constructive solutions and lobby for them as a united group, e.g. forgetting that each person won’t always get what they want. Believe J4P, getting your voice heard isn’t easy when the BGC, and others like the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and football authorities are welcomed with open arms into Westminster at least weekly, if not more. These organisations need punters to lose when betting. Ironically, better guidelines on affordability might stop the disgrace that is; not paying out for spurious reasons.
There are many things that punters want. In my opinion, I might be wrong, however now it looks like we will have an ombudsman, I think all horse racing punters need to fight for a horse racing levy based on turnover. Imagine having the BHA in Westminster and the racing media lobbying on behalf of all punters. In the case of all sports and horse racing punters, minimum bet (liability) laws must be the priority. I do wonder whether punters can rely on their so called ‘friends’ to fight with them: Don’t hold your breath.
It is time for some companies, organisations and many individuals to respect that they would not have a job without punters, so it is for them, not volunteers, to take up the fight, mainly lobbying.
If you earn money from punters or punting itself, it is time to stop moaning. Now is the time to give your own time to help ensure the best outcomes for all types of punters from the consultations that will follow the white paper’s launch. Without punters, many of you will be looking for a new job. Who is going to co-ordinate this? Who is willing to give their time freely with little, if any, short term reward? I’m really interested to see what happens. If I’m honest, I can’t think who will do the work in the ways required.
The UK needs the fairest, safest regulated gambling market possible. The UK is nowhere near that. The white paper will not be the answer, so punters contributing to the consultations that follow in a co-ordinated way are extremely important, especially when so many are still reliant on gambling company profits for their living. Despite the consultations punters will still need new legislation and people to do the ‘hard yards’ to obtain what they want.
ps: An alternative approach might be for hundreds of punters to glue themselves to the doors of Betfred shops on Derby day.