Action Replay – Odds against

There are over four hundred gambling-related suicides each year in the UK, and far more people suffer from addiction to gambling. In an attempt to deal with such problems, the Gambling Commission is proposing affordability checks for customers of online sites. This has naturally led to a lot of complaints from bookmakers, but also from others involved in the horse-racing industry. If gamblers are discouraged or even barred from placing a bet, bookmakers’ profits will go down, and so will the amount they pay into racing (the Horserace Betting Levy Board collects 10% of an operator’s profits above £500,000). So owners and trainers may well find themselves losing income too.

Various kinds of triggers are envisaged, such as having a net loss of £125 within a thirty-day period, which could lead to inquiry into, say, whether the punter has a history of unpaid debts. The gambling industry has objected that this would imply perhaps ten times the number involved in problem gambling having their bank statements and so on checked, even though what they are doing is entirely legal.

One view (The Sports Economist, 21 November) is that sports betting is an increasingly important part of gambling in general and it needs to be regulated ‘to ensure a fair game, keep bettors safe, and stop illegal acts’. AI and machine learning could be used to, for instance, evaluate a person’s betting history and recognise suspicious activities. So clearly a great deal of information would be acquired about both individuals and general trends.

There is also a concern that the checks will be extended from online to betting shops and perhaps even racecourses. The Gambling Commission has said that this is not the case, but bookmakers are not convinced. They also point out that amounts spent in high-street bookies are far smaller than what may be spent online, and that checks may be sufficiently intrusive to send punters to bet on the black market, where there will be no checks and no guards against scams and frauds.

Some companies are of course in favour of the checks, as it means business for them, such as the GB Group, which helps companies verify the identity of customers. ‘Keeping players safe online is right for players and gambling operators’, their website states, as it is part of the companies’ ‘corporate social responsibility’. Bet they’ll be happy if the proposals are implemented.


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