On the cusp of a major shake-up, following the launch this month of an Official Review into the outdated 2005 Gambling Act, the British gaming industry is being threatened by the growing spectre of an underground online betting boom that is now worth more than one billion pounds a year.
So warns Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), following a top-level report by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC), one of the world’s leading corporate forensic and consulting accountancy firms.
The report reveals that in the 12-months between 2018 and 2019 an estimated 200,000 punters used unlicensed gambling operators, wagering £1.4b (US$1.87b/€1.53b) on illicit bets.
Players–among them an unknown number of underage gamblers–visited the dark web sites 27 million times, claimed PwC. This represented approximately 2.5 per cent of all online betting action during the period.
And further data supplied by the prestigious international accountancy firm stated that almost 10 per cent of online gambling searches were for nefarious gaming platforms.
Against the background of the ongoing Official Review, and amid calls for a draconian crackdown on legal gambling, Dugher warned:
“As the standards body for the regulated industry, we strongly welcome the Gambling Review. We think [this] is a great opportunity to drive further change on safer gambling.
“[But] these figures from PwC demonstrate the danger of unintentionally driving punters into the arms of the illegal online black market, which offers none of the protections of the regulated sector.
“Millions of people in the UK enjoy an occasional flutter, whether that is on sports, at the bingo, on the Lottery or online, and it is vitally important that they are able to do so in a safe environment.
“So the Government needs to be wary of doing anything that puts that at risk.”
Britain’s gambling industry directly employs 100,000 people and pays around £3.2b (US$4.26b/€3.5b) in taxes to the state every year.
Player protection and increased safe gambling protocols are at the fore of current industry thinking and deed.
In the past year, for example, the BGC has implemented a number of safer gambling measures — such as controls on advertising and banning under 25-year-olds from joining VIP gambler schemes.
But these laudable attempts at self-regulation have failed to dampen the ire of fundamentalist anti-gambling lawmakers; most vocally personified by former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm.
Duncan Smith has called for the government to “get rid of the UK [regulatory] Gambling Commission (UKGC) altogether.”
The UKGC “has allowed the gambling industry to grow exponentially, extracting most of their money from those who are most addicted, with 60 per cent of the profits coming from just five per cent of gamblers,” claimed Duncan Smith, Conservative Party leader between 2001-2003.
While few would concur with Duncan Smith’s draconian assessment, there is nevertheless widespread belief within the industry that current legislation, formulated in an analogue era, is not quite “fit-for-purpose” in a digital age.
This month the government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which has overall responsibility for the gambling industry, announced the start of a 16-week Review into the 2005 Gambling Act.
“Millions [of people] gamble responsibly. [But] the Gambling Act is an analogue law in a digital age. From an era of having a flutter in a high street bookmaker, casino, racecourse or seaside pier, the industry has evolved at breakneck speed,” said DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden
All–stricter ID and age verification checks, safer gambling tools such as stake and spend limits, advertising and promotions, time-outs and interventions, additional help for problem gamblers, to name some headline issues–will be under review.
The Betting and Gaming Council has thrown its full and committed support behind the evaluation.
But with one important caveat: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
“We strongly welcome the launch of the government’s review. We [call] for it to be wide-ranging and evidence-led,” said BGC boss Dugher.
But reform and stricter new controls should not drive bettors to the dark web.
“Unlicensed sites have very few player protection measures in place. They often fail to carry out checks on customers’ identities, regardless of how much time or money they spend gambling,” he stressed.
“Problem gambling rates have not increased over the past 20-years. The government should focus on problem gamblers rather than discouraging those who gamble safely.”