For many people, next week marks the most exciting few days of the horse-racing calendar, it’s the Cheltenham Festival. But the industry is being squeezed of cash. Affordability checks, compulsorily imposed on high street bookmakers, on a punter’s capacity to gamble have lowered takings by as much as £60 million to £100 million according to British racing’s leadership, writes David Little, a Partner in our Commercial department who increasingly handles Sports Law cases too.
The scale of affordability checks on punters has been laid bare by work including the Racing Post’s recent Big Punting Survey. The survey received more than 10,400 responses and found that 16.6 per cent of those who replied had already been asked to provide personal financial information such as bank statements and tax returns in order to have a bet.
Two thirds of those asked said they would refuse to provide their financial details if asked to do so by a bookmaker, while more than 55 per cent of those who have already been asked for documents said they had refused to do so.
The checks are down to the Gambling Commission. Sarah Gardner, Gambling Commission Deputy Chief Executive recently cited the 2018 Health Survey for England as showing that 0.5 per cent of the population were problem gamblers. In September the Commission said the overall headline problem gambling rate on another measure was statistically stable at 0.3 per cent.
The problem gambling rate for those betting on horseracing not online is three per cent according to figures compiled by Public Health England, while the figure for overall online betting with a bookmaker is 3.7 per cent.
Only lottery gambling produced a lower figure than horseracing, while the figure for in-person bingo was 3.3 per cent. By contrast, the figure for online slots, casino or bingo games was 8.7 per cent.
A disproportionate number of horseracing bettors are being caught up in affordability checks given the low risk of problem gambling they present.
The government is planning a White Paper prior to forming legislation on how to reduce this figure, but in the meantime racing pundits are up in arms that the Commission is using statistics involving online bingo and slot machine addicts.
If horse racing fanciers object to showing their bank statements at the bookies – understandably so – the vacuum the horseracing lobby fears will be filled by the black market. The Racing Post’s survey found that 3.6 per cent of respondents had used a black market operator in the last 12 months, while a further 11 per cent knew someone who had.
Meanwhile, a third of Racing Post respondents said they would either consider going to the black market or definitely do so if they were unable to bet what they wanted with regulated bookmakers.
The counter argument from the Gambling Commission and others has been that the existence of the black market is no excuse not to impose strict regulation.
Reported by the Racing Post, Rishi Sunak hailed the contribution racing and horse breeding made through the more than £4 billion the industry generates for the economy and its ability to showcase Britain on the global stage. “I want to see British racing and breeding stay at the front of this global race in the years ahead,” he added.
The government has been promising legislation on this issue for several years. In all candour can we expect legislation before the next general election? Is it a vote winner? Probably not, so the likelihood is slim. In the meantime horse racing which relies on the levy paid to it from bookmakers is shrinking before our eyes. British racing was already facing major challenges due to its lack of financial competitiveness against other jurisdictions with more favourable funding regimes.
Surely a sensible approach is that regulation should be targeted specifically at those with issues, and the genuinely vulnerable, an avoid pushing those who get great fun out of the sport into the arms of the unregulated market.
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David Little, is a Partner in the Corporate & Commercial team and also Head of Sports Law for the firm. If you would like to contact him please quote Ref CB386 on either 020 7631 4141 or email email@example.com.
The above is accurate as at 10 March 2023. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times. The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.