Geoff Banks’ Column: Gambling — Who Decides What’s Affordable?

Welcome to the second edition of renowned bookmaker Geoff Banks’ column here at Betting.co.uk. All opinions are Mr Banks’ alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Betting.co.uk or its parent company.

The big news breaking in the gambling sector this week is the United Kingdom Gambling Commission are moving to establish ‘affordability thresholds’ for customers betting with UK operators. From next May, customers will be required to provide evidence of affordability if they with gamble in excess of state imposed spending limits; limits that could be as low as £100 a month!

I don’t know about you, but to me this Big Brother approach scares the pants off of me. An official in Birmingham telling me how much I spend every month on my hobby? No thanks.

More concerning still, to make the idea work, there will need to be linkage between operators. The sharing of data, otherwise known as the ‘single customer wallet’, mandates operators to ‘pool’ information about customers. Essentially, betting companies will be tasked with collecting your data, like a bank, and sharing it with other betting companies. Could this be considered to be overbearing?

The move also represents a precedent for state controlled spending. It also assumes, incorrectly, that gambling presents a special case, as distinct and different from the likes of  drinking and smoking — neither of which are subject to such interventions.

Gambling operators certainly deserved the rub they had from critics during the era of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops. Voracious machines they were. Combine that with voluminous advertising from gambling companies and it wasn’t hard to agree that the industry had crossed a line here. Times have changed however, and I firmly believe the vast majority of gambling companies have cleaned up their act thoroughly. Responsible gambling messages not only abound, but the message is actually being enforced.

There are still some eye watering fines on gambling companies imposed by the Commission, too. I am surprised, however, of the level of those fines, and even the reasoning for them has not been challenged by operators before now. There is a chance that the Commission will become emboldened to continue with imposition of fines based on their ‘judgement call’ on whether an operator had been seen to do enough.

A concerning precedent

Under the proposals, we would have public officials looking into your spending habits, and determining how much is affordable in your gambling every month. The choice of the individual to spend as he or she sensibly determines is being removed. We are being given our pocket money by the state.

One can only imagine the mind boggling calculations which will be required. The over estimation of areas of spend deemed for ‘good causes’ as set against spending on our addictions, which brings in the question of morality, with those against gambling determining whether someone can or should be gambling at all.

Is gambling somehow sufficiently different to warrant such actions by the state? Is it desirable, or just the slippery slope to officials to tell us how much we can spend on drink, going to the football, or other leisure activities? Once you allow these people control over your life, a dangerous precedent has been set. One should recall that in April last year, credit cards were banned as a method of paying for your wagering. It was an important step to ensuring people only bet as they could afford. Why is this measure being ignored now?

Has the gambling sector and its customers so failed that is is deserving of such treatment? Well, in an era of responsible gambling tools and pro active interventions, I think the companies have been notably successful implementing fair policies on its customers. They may have been slow off the mark in some cases, but they are right behind it now. If things are firmly moving in the right direction, I see little necessity for a Gambling Commission to intervene so negatively in people’s lives in order to be seen to be doing something in the eyes of the media. There’s always a temptation by regulators to be making often draconian moves in support of the cluck cluck brigade.

As for the consumer – do we imagine they’re going to happily share their payslips and annual accounts with operators? And in the knowledge that information has to be pooled with other operators to work? I doubt very much people will be in any way comfortable doing that.

And if, as it should, the single customer wallet idea fails the information security test, individual customers will be tied to one operator for their spend. Unless, that is, they’re prepared to expose their personal financial data across the gambling network.

I know how I would feel about that. I was recently asked by Bet Victor for a copy of my payslip. Whilst I haven’t had one of those for years, the prospect of sharing my worth with the operator’s staff in Gibraltar isn’t one I relished. I closed an account I’ve had for three decades. I’d rather have my bets on the black.

– Geoff Banks, geoffbanks.bet

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