UK sees 27m visits to black market sites in a year

| By Richard Mulligan
British consumers visited unregulated gambling sites almost 30 million times in a year, according to research highlighted by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).

BGC said a report by PWC revealed that 200,000 customers used an unlicensed gambling operator over a 12-month period between 2018 and 2019, staking around £1.4bn.

Overall, unregulated operators accounted for 2.5 per cent of all visits to betting websites – amounting to 27 million visits in total. Nearly one in 10 (9%) of all gambling search results were for black market sites.

With the UK Government embarking on its long-anticipated Gambling Review, the BGC warned that tougher controls on licensed operators could lead to customers being forced into the arms of unscrupulous black market alternaives, who have none of the safeguards put in place by the regulated sector.

Michael Dugher, chief executive of BGC, said: “As the standards body for the regulated industry, we strongly welcome the Gambling Review, which we think is a great opportunity to drive further change on safer gambling.

“However, these figures demonstrate the danger of unintentionally driving punters into the arms of the illegal, online black market – which offers none of the protections of the regulated sector.

“The regulated betting and gaming industry employs 100,000 men and women and pays £3.2bn a year in tax to the Treasury, so the Government needs to be wary of doing anything that puts that at risk.

“Millions of people in the UK enjoy an occasional flutter, whether that is on sports, at the bingo, on the Lottery or online, and it is vitally important that they are able to do so in a safe environment, rather than the unscrupulous black market.”

Last week UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden launched a wide-ranging review of the country’s gambling laws to ensure they are fit for the digital age.

Online restrictions, marketing and the powers of the Gambling Commission will be looked at as part of a call for evidence, to examine in detail how gambling has changed in the 15 years since the Gambling Act 2005.

Protections for online gamblers like stake and spend limits, advertising and promotional offers and whether extra protections for young adults are needed will all be explored.

Dowden said: “Whilst millions gamble responsibly, the Gambling Act is an analogue law in a digital age. From an era of having a flutter in a high street bookmaker, casino, racecourse or seaside pier, the industry has evolved at breakneck speed.

“This comprehensive review will ensure we are tackling problem gambling in all its forms to protect children and vulnerable people. It will also help those who enjoy placing a bet to do so safely.”

In response to the Gambling Review, BGC last week said it welcomes an evidence-led assessment, which it said would build on its own work to create a safer gambling environment.

“As the standards body for the regulated industry, we strongly welcome the launch of the government’s review,” Dugher said. “We called for it to be wide-ranging and evidence-led, and it provides an important opportunity to drive further changes on safer gambling introduced by the industry in the past year.”

The BGC has previously implemented safer gambling measures such as steps to reduce underage ad exposure and a ban on under-25s joining VIP schemes.

However, Dugher also pointed out that problem gambling rates had not increased over the past 20 years, and said the Government should make sure to focus on problem gamblers rather than discouraging those who gamble safely in its review.

Subscribe to the iGaming newsletter