This mindless plan would drive punters underground - and I'd be going with them....

Last Updated: 04.02.2021

Thursday, 3rd February 2021

This mindless plan would drive punters underground - and I’d be going with them….

In this world there is no shortage of busybodies…. meddlers…. nosey-parkers…. do-gooders….

…. overbearing control freaks – 100% certain they know more about what’s good for you than you do….

…. fevered egos and unqualified finger-waggers who hunger for power and live to make rules for others to obey….

Each yearns to improve the world. Which is fine – in theory….

The trouble arises when theory becomes practice and outcomes serve only to make everything worse for all involved….

Right now, your betting activities are in the crosshairs of these people….

The Gambling Commission (GC) – aided and abetted by paper-shuffling bureaucrats and bone-headed politicians – is floating the idea of affordability checks for all punters….

Put into practice, affordability checks might well require simple racing punters like you and I to provide our bookmakers with evidence that we are financially fit to lose more than £100 a month….

  • How we got here.... 

Most bad ideas begin with a good intention. This one is no exception….

Thousands of problem gamblers have fallen prey to online casinos. They’ve spanked millions on slots, roulette and other games of chance that require no skill to play and offer no hope of long-term profit….

Why play? Good question. The answer is complex – and not universal. But for many what starts out as fun soon turns sour and swiftly becomes an extremely destructive compulsion….

Like me you’ve no doubt read the horror stories. People who lost everything – savings, homes, marriages, hope. Some driven to crime. Some seemingly victimised by unscrupulous profit-driven operators intent on squeezing every last drop of juice from the lemon….

Bookmakers – on the whole – have fallen well short of playing fair. Left to regulate their own practices and policies, they’ve enabled – and in some cases actively encouraged – problem gamers to keep on playing until the tank has run dry….

Great for bookmaker profits; great for shareholders; great for the CEO’s remuneration package. Not so good for the punters involved, their families, or wider society….

Whoever thought it was a good idea to trust bookmakers to do the right thing probably wants his backside sewing up with catgut. It was a bit like nominating the morbidly obese child to mind the sweet trolley. It was never going to end well….

But you don’t solve one problem by creating an even bigger one. And, right now, that’s what the GC is looking at doing….

  • A plan that Stalin would be proud of.... 

Bookmakers can’t be trusted to do the right thing with problem gamblers of any stamp – that’s for sure….

Left to themselves bookmakers will carry on playing parrot – chirping on about responsible gambling and playing only until the fun stops. They’ll continue to plaster their websites with GamStop and Gamcare buttons. Saintly TV adverts will continue to cast the bookie as a socially responsible power for good who really cares….

But behind closed doors problem gamblers will be welcomed with open arms, actively targeted, and screwed for whatever they can bring to the table – the more the better. Bookmakers are not in business to turn business away. Who is?

It’s a dirty business in parts. And I don’t know what the solution is. If it were left to me I might insist on bookmakers agreeing to open their books on demand to regulators as part of licencing requirements….

I’d insist on total transparency. Let third-party independent auditors go in and look at what bookmakers are doing, how they behave, what their policies amount to in practice and where they have gone off the reservation – how often and to what degree….

All that data exists in the record. Let it be scrutinised. Let the facts be known. And where bookmakers have been found to abuse the rules and the guidelines (which probably require more strength and precision) let the punishment fit the crime….

I’m not calling for the firing squad. But wrist-slapping won’t do either. I’m talking about financial penalties. Massive penalties that hit hard and actually mean something to multi-billion pound businesses….

I’m talking penalties that run into millions. If you want to see change, incentivize it. Make it happen by making the alternative hurt more….

Of course, that’s just an idea off the top of my head. One that Stalin might have been proud of, for sure. But it’s first thing in the morning and daft as it might sound to somebody who knows the terrain in better detail, I reckon it’s a better route forward than what the GC is currently considering….

  • £100! Can you see the problem? 

Quite why the humble racing punter is being dragged into all this is beyond me….

The GC’s affordability checks would not discriminate between your big casino game player and your average racing punter who likes a few quid on at the weekend….

Under the rules being discussed the two animals would be treated exactly the same way….

But there’s a massive difference between a racing punter who might spank £125 a month on the big races as part of a recreational pastime and a casino player who spanks that in five minutes on some silly slot game and is engaged in embezzling funds from his employer or his parents….

Yet in a one-size-fits-all regulatory environment both punters would need to prove they can afford to lose more than £100 once that threshold has been breached….

£100!!! Can you see the issue? Most punters would stand at risk of triggering that threshold in a matter of weeks – maybe days….

Right now, I’ve got something like £375 tied up in various ante-post bets for Cheltenham – built up over the last few months….

If they all go down in March – and there’s a good chance most will – under affordability rules I’d be required to prove to Betfair that I’m financially secure enough to lose more….

And I’m not a big punter. I’m not a £500 per bet man. Nothing like it. I’m a common-garden player. The guys who habitually bet 3-figure sums – or more – on a horse would be sending up the red flag after a single losing bet….

How can this work?

  • Brace yourself.... 

Trigger the threshold and that will mean sending bank statements, payslips, and tax returns to the bookmaker – so that he can inspect your affairs and determine that you’re not a complete deadbeat….

And it wouldn’t stop there. Whether or not you can afford to lose more than £100 a month will depend on your disposable income levels….

That means what you have left to lose after all the bills have been paid. So the bookmaker will need to know what your outgoings are – all across the board….

You’ll need to provide evidence of what you spend – and who with. Every penny. And details of who you owe what to. And how you’re paying that back. And information about any savings or investments you might have. With the documentary evidence to prove it….

Let’s face it. Under this level of scrutiny the bookmaker’s going to know more about you than the people you live with….

Your bookmaker will have intimate knowledge of every aspect of your life. What you spend, how and on what says a great deal about who you are….

Okay, you won’t have to show up at Fred Done’s headquarters on a wet Monday morning for a physical examination conducted by a man wearing latex gloves and holding a flashlight. But that’s the only plus in all of this….

  • Who in his right mind?

Who in his right mind would want to supply the bookmaker with that kind of information?

What’s he going to do with it? What other purposes – beyond those the data is ostensibly collected for – might that data be put to? How might he use the information I provide for commercial benefit?

Who exactly is going to have access to such data? Can the 25-year-old admin bod with a casino game problem of his own really be trusted with it?

What happens to all the information once I’ve provided it? How is it stored? How is it disposed of?

Can I be sure it is going to be properly protected from third-party players with ulterior motives – hackers, ID thieves, fraudsters or even blackmailers?

How long is this process going to take? If I trigger the rules on a Saturday afternoon, will I be cleared to bet the following day or will it be months down the line after a soul-destroying bureaucratic nightmare that reads like something out of Kafka novel?

Who decides if I’m fit to bet and fit to lose? What are his qualifications? Is his decision final? How do I appeal?

And why would I even bother? Who in his right mind would consent to play this ludicrous game? I know I won’t….

The GC’s affordability rules – in their current suggested form – are just the kind of thing to drive betting underground….

And I say that with confidence because I would have no qualms about going underground with my own betting. I’d rather go that way than jump through hoops above ground….

  • Winners and losers….

The bookmakers would suffer, of course. I could probably live with that – and not shed too many tears. Criminals would prosper. You can be sure they would control underground betting channels. Punters would need to learn to live in a harder-edged environment….

Ultimately racing would suffer – losing tens of millions from a reduced levy. And that’s the big deal in all of this….

The sport is already balanced on a knife edge. The kind of scenario dreamt up by the GC – along with bone-headed politicians (many of whom don’t have a clue what they’re talking about) – could do some real damage. Damage the game might not recover from…. 

I’m sure the do-gooders behind the affordability check proposals have their hearts in the right place. They’re trying to help abused people. And they’re trying to see to it that others don’t get similarly abused in the future….

Fair enough. But they haven’t really thought this thing through. They don’t see the long-term consequences and implications. The proposals as they stand are verging on mindless. And the financial health of racing is way too big a price to pay for this kind of experiment to gain further traction….

They need to think again. That’s my take….

Find out more about what the GC is thinking here. And make your thoughts known to them here. You’ve got until 9th February. It’s important we all make our views clear. There might not be a second chance….

  • The final word….

That’s all from me for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with my take on the weekend action. Meanwhile….

Anything to report? Anything to say? Anything to share? Contact me at:

Until next time. Stay tuned.

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd