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Regulus FOI reveals public opposition to affordability checks

| By Kyle Goldsmith
A freedom of information (FoI) request forced the Gambling Commission to publish data showing clear public opposition to affordability checks, the Racing Post reports.
GC affordability checks

The short survey on affordability checks was completed with approximately 12,000 responses in February 2021. However, the GC only published a limited summary of the results when it released its response to the consultation in May this year.

However, a freedom of information request by Regulus Partners, shared with the Racing Post, has now led to further details being revealed that displays clear opposition to financial risk checks.

The data shows that when the survey was conducted, just 14% of punters would disclose information when requested by a gambling company. Some 41.8% would refuse to share these details due to feeling uncomfortable, while 22.5% would stop betting with that company and move to another until they also requested information.

The GC didn’t respond directly to the Racing Post’s request for comment on why the results were not released at the time.

Survey highlights public’s privacy concerns

Of the survey’s 12,000 respondents, nearly 82% said they gambled twice or more in a week according to the Racing Post. Close to 92% had bet online in the four weeks prior.

There was a broad consensus in favour of operator intervention when a player appears to be at-risk; 75% of respondents said action should be taken to help such customers.

However the survey showed people do not believe it should be down to a gambling operator to rule whether or not they could afford to gamble. In total 77.6% of respondents argued businesses shouldn’t be required to assess gambling affordability for customers.

Of that number, 64.4% cited individuals’ freedom, while 61.4% highlighted privacy concerns.

When asked how comfortable they would feel about companies accessing information for affordability checks, nearly two-thirds (66.3%) responded saying they would feel either uncomfortable or very comfortable. Just 8.6% stated they would feel very comfortable sharing such information.

When people were asked what would make them more comfortable to share their data, 54.3% simply said they would never disclose that level of personal information.

Was the GC withholding data?

The initial short survey on affordability checks was conducted alongside a consultation as the GC looked for ways to protect vulnerable players from gambling harms.

While the GC initially declared it would disclose the results alongside its 2023 consultation responses, the full details weren’t shared. Instead, the results were folded into the government’s Gambling Act review and subsequent white paper.

Regulus had previously seen a freedom of information request for the results turned down due to a lack of “outstanding public interest”, the Racing Post noted.

The GC has come under fire in the past for its perceived misuse of statistics. In a 2023 interview with iGB, industry veteran David Brown criticised the Commission’s misrepresentation of statistics on affordability checks, amid an ongoing back-and-forth about different sides of the gambling reform debate using data to score points.

Affordability continue to cause industry concern

The white paper’s release in April 2023 was seen as a watershed moment for how gambling is regulated in the UK.

But while some measures such as stake limits and a mandatory statutory levy have been somewhat well-received, affordability checks remain a key point of contention.

GC chief executive Andrew Rhodes said affordability checks were dominating the responses in white paper consultations, with the horseracing industry particularly against the proposals.

Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale launched a petition against financial risk checks in November. That petition reached 100,000 signatures in less than a month, leading to a parliamentary debate on the issue.

However plans continue to move forward – a six-month “frictionless” affordability checks pilot is set to be rolled out in August and end in February 2025. GC executive director Tim Miller said these frictionless checks would use open source data rather than going to credit reference agencies.

Additionally, “light touch” financial risk checks will undergo a two-round pilot. Triggered when net deposits hit £500 (€590/$639), the first round will start on 30 August. In February 2025, a second phase will begin where the check is triggered by £150 in net deposits.

“We have to get the balance right between protecting people from the potentially life-ruining effects of gambling-related harm and respecting the freedom of adults to engage in an activity that the vast majority do so without experiencing harm,” GC CEO Andrew Rhodes said at the time.

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