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Affordability checks: Everything you need to know

| By Kyle Goldsmith | Reading Time: 4 minutes
With parliament to debate the introduction of affordability checks today (26 February), here’s everything you need to know about the proposals so far.

The long-awaited release of the Gambling Act white paper in April was the most transformative review of UK gambling in 18 years. It marked a key landmark in how the market will be regulated in the future – with affordability checks a key part of that discussion.

The government has already introduced some measures, such as the establishment of stake limits for online slots. However, other resolutions are also being worked upon as the UK government and the Gambling Commission (GC) looks to ease concerns over gambling harms in the country.

The strongest industry response to these proposals has been towards the potential implementation of affordability checks. They have met fierce opposition from operators and trade bodies.

With parliament set to debate financial checks this week, let’s take a look at how we got here.

White paper’s release

Many of the white paper’s proposals intended to protect vulnerable groups. The GC published research in November revealing one in 40 Britons is a problem gambler.

Lucy Frazer, the secretary of state for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), stated the DCMS would “force” operators to ramp up their affordability checks.

The current proposals would see players who lose £1,000 within 24 hours, or £2,000 over 90 days, face financial checks. Meanwhile, those who have a net loss beyond £125 each month, or £500 per year, will have “passive” checks performed.

Industry hits back at affordability checks

The industry’s response to affordability checks has been very vocal. There is an overriding belief that financial checks will ultimately prove harmful for business.

Andrew Rhodes, GC chief executive, stated affordability checks made up many of the responses in the white paper consultations.

The Gamblers Consumer Forum (GCF) contacted the UK’s regulator of statistics to highlight concerns over figures used by the Commission. Most prominent was the number of players expected to be impacted by affordability checks.

The GC authored an open letter to Racing Post readers to “clear up misunderstandings” over the affordability check consultations. The Commission accused the Racing Post of publishing “imbalanced stories”.

Even some supporters of financial risk checks have their concerns. The charity GamCare, for example, expressed its support for their introduction. However, it also highlighted concerns over the proposed threshold level.

It’s worth nothing that, despite industry pressure, new research released last week from GambleAware suggested over half of UK adults support the implementation of affordability checks in gambling.

Jockey Club petition sets up debate

The industry’s battle against affordability checks received a potentially key boost in November. Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale launched an online petition looking to rally against their introduction.

The Jockey Club stated affordability checks could cost the racing industry £250m over the next five years. The Jockey Club also claimed bettors may have to prove they can afford their hobby if they lose £1.37 per day.

By the end of November, the petition had hit 100,000 signatures. This was enough to ensure parliament would discuss affordability checks. After the topic was deliberated in January, 26 February was set as the date for the parliamentary debate.

GC under fire

Today’s debate will occur in the face of mounting pressure on the GC. This is after the Commission’s upcoming Gambling Survey for Great Britain (GSGB) was endorsed in an independent review, only for doubt to be cast over the reliability of its statistics.

Professor Patrick Sturgis labelled the GSGB “exemplary in all respects”. However, Sturgis was hesitant to fully throw his support behind the statistical accuracy of the survey. Sturgis said policymakers must “treat them with due caution, being mindful to the fact there is a non-negligible risk” of overstated levels of addiction.

This is far from the first time that observers have criticised the GC’s attitude towards statistical accuracy. David Brown, a UK industry veteran of 50 years, pointed out the GC’s misrepresentation of affordability checks statistics in a 2023 interview with iGB.

Following Sturgis’ review, gambling advisory business Regulus Partners declared there was “little to dispel” the concerns over the GSGB’s potential statistical inaccuracies, stating the “inconvenient truth” had been glossed over.

Melanie Ellis, a vastly experienced gambling regulatory lawyer and partner at Northridge Law, also commented that inaccurate statistics could play a key role in public debate on gambling harms.

“The new official problem gambling rate could be used to justify adjusting these [measures] in the future,” Ellis told iGB. “The GSGB’s statistics will soon become official statistics and inevitably influence the public debate.

“It may be that the results are accurate while previous studies were not, but an around tenfold difference in problem gambling rates at least warrants further research, tests and experimentation to establish the accuracy of the new data before the commission even considers it becoming official statistics.”

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