Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Scott Benton has warned UK policymakers that the banks are not ready to facilitate mass affordability checks on punters.
Benton is the MP for Blackpool South, the UK constituency with among the greatest number of workers employed in the gambling and gaming industry.
Affordability has been a buzzword of the UK’s gambling reform-debate for the past two years, as policymakers work towards a white paper of proposals for reform.
However, Benton has warned that if the affordability-check proposals are levied at a recommended level of around £2,000 over a 90-day period, it may capture an unfeasibly large demographic of gamblers.
“I’m afraid the banks and credit agencies just are not ready at the moment to levy those checks and, unless they are, my fear is we’ll see the government essentially roll out the White Paper, then wash its hands of it and leave it to the Gambling Commission to implement”, he said.
The affordability debate has been raging in various parts of the industry, with critics contending that forcing punters to disclose financial data in a bid to assess the level of gambling they can afford will push them to black- market operators who do not make those demands.
“The government talks about frictionless checks, non-intrusive checks, and allowing the industry to largely continue whilst clamping down on the problems we have in that fraction of 1% of people who have a gaming problem. The issue is, how is that actually going to work?”, Benton said.
He said if the affordability-checks rule is implemented before the banks are able to deliver it, punters may fall into a “regulatory gap” where the only way to fulfil the regulatory criteria is to levy checks on all customers, most of whom would refuse to comply and move to the black market.
“Not only does this defund public services, but it actually hurts those vulnerable customers, which the whole purpose of this review, in essence, is about trying to protect”, he said.
Benton’s comments were made during a panel discussion, which included Gambling Commission Executive Director Tim Miller and representatives of the Danish, Dutch, and French gambling regulators.
Miller said that the principle of frictionless affordability checks had to be a major part of the regulatory regime moving forwards.
“As a regulator, we’ve been working incredibly closely with the Information Commissioner to ensure that the data-protection side of it is done properly. We’ve been working, and continue to work, very closely with the financial-services industry, with the credit-reference agencies, to ensure that this could be done in a way that is frictionless, but most importantly, builds public trust and confidence”, Miller said.
The rest of the panel discussion focused on alternative regulatory player-protection interventions, such as controls on advertising and the implementation of a single-customer view.
All jurisdictions on the panel had introduced some sort of advertising bans, including the UK’s whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertising during football matches and limits on incentives and bonuses.
The concept of the single-customer view was received with scepticism by some on the panel, as it remains unclear how operators would be able to share that degree of player data without forfeiting commercial advantages.
Danish Gambling Authority Director Anders Dorph said, “We actually think that single-customer view will give us a little too much, but I think most problem gamblers actually are quite loyal; maybe they have two operators they use. So I’m not sure this will really give us a lot of information which we don’t have first-hand. And I think right now, the operators know their customer.”
Chairman of the French regulator, the ANJ, Isabelle Falque Pierrotin, said France had no plans to install a single- customer view across all operators.
“In France, we have a database of all the online gambling transactions in real time. So somehow, we have the single-consumer view for online gambling. But this database is used only to check and to make sure that the operators are respecting, for instance, their legal obligation to identify the problematic gamblers and to offer them services”, she explained.
“It’s very useful to have such a database. But we are not in charge of making sure that the problematic gamblers are identified by the operators. We’re not the first row of activity. The only service we have as a single consumer view is the self-exclusion scheme that we have and that we are monitoring. For three years, you can be excluded from all the online operators. And we are managing fine with that.”