Tottenham Report: Will restrictions on promotions drive more people to black-market sites?

March 21, 2023 10:00 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports
March 21, 2023 10:00 PM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports

The UK’s Betting & Gaming Council (BGC) has published research it commissioned from polling firm YouGov that claims 82 per cent of punters believe betting companies should be allowed to offer promotions, such as free bets. 

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The survey also reportedly found that 54 per cent of punters think banning promotions would likely drive others like them to unregulated, unsafe, black market gambling sites where such offers are not banned. 

These, it is important to remember, are the opinions of those who already bet on a regular basis, not the general public. It is likely that presented with the same rather leading questions, everyday folk would be less keen on the idea of unbridled enticements to gamble. 

It all comes, of course, in the context of the UK’s still-impending gambling-reform White Paper, in which it is likely that some level of restriction on promotions will be pitched, albeit in the knowledge that further consultation and latterly parliamentary debate on any recommendations will take place before any restrictions are enacted. 

Commenting on the findings of the survey, BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said: “This survey reinforces what anyone who knows anything about betting already understands – that betting customers, just like consumers of any other product, value offers like small free bets which are subject to strict controls and restrictions to protect the vulnerable.” 

His comments came ahead of the major horse-racing event, Cheltenham Festival, last week, where more than £1bn was predicted to be bet during the four-day event. Needless to say, it’s a time of year when UK-facing operators roll out free bets and offers across all platforms in a bid to claim as much of the handle as possible. 

“The market for betting is hyper-competitive, with most customers using a number of different operators. Banning or severely restricting free bets would be another attack on the punter. It degrades the customer experience and hurts business and that jeopardises jobs. What’s more, as this survey makes clear, if promotions are restricted or banned, there’s only one place punters will go — the growing, unsafe, unregulated, gambling black market”, Dugher continued. 

“Ministers should consider the millions of responsible punters enjoying a bet during Cheltenham and not bring in draconian measures in a weak attempt to further placate the tiny minority of anti-gambling prohibitionists.” 

The BGC cited the Gambling Commission as estimating that just 0.2 per cent of the adult population in the UK are problem gamblers, down from 0.3 per when the figures were last compiled. It is a tiny number, but unfortunately the fractional numbers have been offered as a defence for a business-as-usual gambling operation for years and have never dulled the calls for reform from the anti-gambling lobby.  

The BGC also claimed that in the UK, regulated gambling supports around 110,000 jobs, generates £7.1bn for the economy, and contributes £4.2bn in tax. Not claims that can be made of the black market, of course. 

Despite this, the trade body said a recent study found that use of black-market sites had more than doubled in recent years, from 210,000 to 460,000, and that the money staked is in the billions.  

The glaring conclusion is ‘regulated promotion and incentives good, unregulated incentives bad’, but as the White Paper nears publication (surely!), this black-and-white thinking is probably not going to cut it.  

The rise in black-market gambling is likely just as much to do with the proliferation of black-market sites as it is evidence of any large shift from regulated markets to illegal sites. As new forms of gambling emerge that are not covered by ‘white’ jurisdictions, crypto gambling for example, the use of such sites will mount. 

Meanwhile, consultation and evidence gathering about the relative harms of the industry versus its contribution to the economy, society, and British life in general are ongoing. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is understood to have launched a consultation just last week which includes questions on gambling.  

It is hard to know whether that will feed into the ongoing reform process, but the BGC will certainly be hoping that feedback is constructive on what the industry is bringing to the table, as well as the inevitable tally of potential harms.