finance

Limit gamblers’ bets, urges UK think-tank


Gamblers should be limited to betting £100 each month unless they pass more stringent checks by betting companies, according to a report calling for reform of the industry.

The Social Market Foundation, a cross-party think-tank, said that it was “inevitable that gamblers will sometimes spend more than they can afford” but that “protective regulation” should be introduced to stop people chasing their debts to the point that it became harmful behaviour.

The report, due to be published on Wednesday, is the latest in a series of inquiries into the betting industry ahead of a sweeping review of the UK’s gambling laws, which is expected in the autumn.

It is the first to suggest an overhaul of the way gambling is regulated in the UK, taking sole responsibility for the sector away from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and splitting it between a new industry ombudsman and a licensing authority.

Other proposals by the SMF include a reform of gambling taxation, an end to offshore operators by forcing companies to have a minimum footprint in the UK, and a limit on online slot games of up to £5.

James Noyes, a former adviser to the Labour MP Tom Watson and author of the report, said that “an unambiguous spending threshold” was the “only way” consumers could be protected from gambling beyond their means.

The report calculates that a “socially acceptable” betting limit for the lowest income households is £23 per week — or around £100 per month. It added that once any gambler had reached this limit, companies should ask for proof of a customer’s wealth by using tax returns, wage slips and credit checks.

That data could then be held by the gambling ombudsman and be accessible to other operators to stop problem gamblers switching brands to bet more, it suggested.

Industry executives and privacy campaigners fear that such intrusive checks could infringe individuals’ right to choose how they spend their money.

Dan Waugh, a sector analyst at Regulus Partners, said caps on spending amounted to a “radical and intrusive approach to affordability and one that risks being accompanied by downwards only reviews”.

The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents 90 per cent of UK gambling companies, said: “We already carry out robust and improved affordability checks . . . We disagree with the suggestion of an arbitrary and random low cap on spending and can think of no other area of the economy where the government determines how much an individual can spend.”

The UK’s gambling sector has come under increasing pressure from policymakers and campaigners after the loosening of regulation in 2005 caused a boom in the industry and an eruption in online gambling, which is less tightly monitored than betting in shops, casinos and racetracks.

Concerns have been raised that coronavirus lockdowns have triggered a jump in problem gambling as vulnerable punters revive their habit to relieve the boredom of being stuck indoors.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, founder of the advocacy group Clean Up Gambling, said the SMF report was the first time a “workable model” for affordability limits had been proposed and that the £100 per month cap was “realistic”, reflecting the “economic reality” of the UK’s lowest income households.



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