The UK government’s regulatory Gambling Commission (UKGC) has hit back at industry claims that legal reform could lead to a surge in illicit gaming and nefarious dark web betting sites.
Amid the tactical battleground of the ongoing Review into the nation’s outdated 2005 Gambling Act, the UKGC assertion follows a recent contentious report by forensic accountants Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) that warns that new regulations may drive punters into the arms of the unregulated sector.
The PwC report was commissioned by industry heavy-hitters William Hill and Entain, formerly GVC Holdings.
According to the probe—based on an independent UK consumer survey and Gambling Commission data–it’s estimated that British punters staked £1.4bn on illegal bets over a 12-month period between 2017-2018.
The report, furthermore, claimed that there could already be around 200,000 UK gamblers using dark web sites.
Citing the PwC report, British gambling’s industry body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) this week warned that nefarious gaming could explode if the Review triggered draconian controls on the legal industry.
But UKGC Chief Executive Neil McArthur has decried the report as “inconsistent with the intelligence picture.” Crucially, he claimed, it did not differentiate between actual users visiting sites and automated bots.
And he argued that it failed to conclusively prove the existence of a major underground betting market.
If anything, McArthur argues, the unregulated market is “stable and not expanding”.
In a letter to anti-gambling campaigner Carolyn Harris, chair of the All-Party (British) Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Gambling Related Harm, McArthur welcomed ongoing research into illegal betting.
But he also reiterated: “The figures in the PwC report should be treated cautiously. Their methodology makes clear they had to use data from August 2018, which indicates traffic to websites but does not differentiate whether this was by consumers or reflective of the vast amount of automated transactions that bots and other system tools conduct.”
“Whilst this data shows that there are threats from illegal gambling for British consumers, the scale of the threat needs to be kept in proportion, despite recent media reports and reports from consultants paid for by the industry,” McArthur wrote.
Nevertheless, he also conceded: “This should not distract from the need to continue to drive-up standards and make gambling safer in the regulated market.
“Criminals seeking to circumvent the regulated sphere and exploit the vulnerable are demonstrating increasing sophistication, complexity and capability which poses challenges to us to keep pace,” added McArthur.
For her part the APPG’s Harris claimed: “The online gambling industry talks up the threat of the black market in an attempt to resist regulation and protect its profits, but trying to hijack the debate by manufacturing dodgy dossiers of information to further their own ends is an incredibly transparent tactic and will not be any kind of excuse to hold down standards.”
Legislators are indeed mulling some tougher measures, say industry insiders, as the Review into the 2005 Gambling Act continues apace.
New controls on iGaming, for example, could feature mandatory affordability checks, monthly limits on customer deposits and capping stake limits on online slot games.