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Gambling gears up for Cheltenham amid rising concerns over affordability

| By Marese O'Hagan
Ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, industry experts and data reveal consumer spend is set to spike, although affordability checks may impact one of the most anticipated events in horse racing.

Cheltenham begins today (14 March) and ends on Friday 17 March and, while betting volumes are set to rise, the festival will play out amid rising concerns about affordability checks on consumers.

A study conducted by YouGov – which was commissioned by the affiliate Online Betting Guide (OLBG) – surveyed a total of 1,007 gamblers in the UK between 23 February and 2 March.

It found that 11% of punters are gearing up to gambling more on Cheltenham this year than they did last year, compared to 10% who said they were planning to gamble less than they did at Cheltenham 2022.

A total of 23% said they were planning on gambling around the same amount on the event year-on-year.

In addition, 6% of those surveyed said they did not bet on Cheltenham last year but planned to do so this year, while 50% said they did not place a bet on the event last year and would not this year.

Affordability concerns

Ahead of the event, gambling licensing law firm Poppleston Allen said that punters could encounter affordability checks when placing bets on Cheltenham this year – and could be turned away if they do not provide the appropriate documentation.

“Since last year’s major racing events took place, we’ve seen a rise in bookmakers undertaking affordability checks and asking players to provide documentation such as payslips and bank statements to prove they can afford to gamble,” said Felix Faulkner, solicitor at Poppleston Allen.

“If a betting establishment asks a customer for financial information and they are unable or unwilling to provide it, the company is well within its rights to refuse to take their bet.”

Faulkner emphasises that this is both a player protection measure and a licence condition for operators.

“Bookmakers have a legal responsibility under their operating licence conditions to minimise the risk of customers experiencing gambling harm,” Faulkner continued. “If they have concerns a customer might be trying to bet more than they can afford, it is advisable they refuse the bet.”

Affordability checks are a presumed part of the forthcoming Gambling Act Review white paper, a Whitehall document that will set out reforms for gambling in the UK. The racing sector in particular has frequently raised concerns about their impact on punters.

In February it began a campaign to have bettors write to their local MP to warn of the checks’ effects, which is backed by the Betting and Gaming Council.

Faulkner said that a lack of guidance on affordability checks had allowed the industry to make its own rules – resulting in a variation across the board.

“An element of uncertainty in the market”

“There is an element of uncertainty in the market at present,” he said. “However, at present there are no hard and fast rules on what is an appropriate level that should prompt bookmakers to ask customers for proof their gambling is affordable to them.”

Faulkner concluded that although it is unclear whether bookmakers will enforce affordability at this year’s event, they must always remain compliant to the GB Gambling Commission’s licence conditions.

“It remains to be seen how the various on-course bookmakers will interpret the guidance this year,” he said. “In practice it can be difficult for them to work out who can afford what if there is a race starting in one minute and there are 20 people waving money at them to put a bet on, however compliance with licence conditions is mandatory and operators should always act responsibly.”

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