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Cruddace shares concerns on gambling review

Top racing administrator Martin Cruddace has warned the sport may run the risk of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ if affordability checks for punters are introduced in isolation.

Cruddace was speaking on Sky Sports Racing as part of a discussion assessing measures under consideration by the Gambling Commission to ensure gamblers do not bet drastically more than they can afford.

He and other contributors to the Racing Debate programme welcome the prospect of a Gambling Review which is likely to update the 2005 Gambling Act, to take account of major developments to the market place – such as the vastly-increased prevalence of online betting.

But Cruddace, chief executive of Arena Racing Company, is concerned that unilateral action – in advance of the Gambling Review – could reduce annual racing revenue by up to £100million.

A report published by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has cited a loss of £60m – and Cruddace believes that figure may prove conservative.

He said: “If it’s potentially likely that the affordability levels are not right for people who bet on horseracing, we could see the turnover on British horseracing being decimated.

“While of course we need to do everything we can for problem gamblers, we have to be very careful that we don’t effectively throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“In my view, it’s much better if the affordability consultation and the review happen together.”

MP Carolyn Harris, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm (APPG), is an advocate of the Gambling Review.

She is unconvinced that the potential loss of up to £60m is accurate.

“It’s scaremongering on behalf of the industry, and it’s panic on behalf of the horseracing,” she said.

Cruddace disputes that point.

“The £60million, if it’s wrong, is low,” he said.

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“I think it’s probably more likely to be £100million. I’ve done those calculations – and I promise you £60million is the absolute conservative figure.”

He and Harris do not find common ground either on the probability of those potentially prevented from gambling with British bookmakers instead seeking out off-shore, unregulated sites on the ‘black market’.

“The black market is a very dangerous foothold,” said Cruddace.

Brigid Simmonds, chairman of the Betting And Gaming Council, is in agreement.

She said: “What we want to come out of it (Gambling Review) is have an industry that is well-regulated, is best in class but where people should gamble with regulated companies in this country and should not be driven to … the black market.

“When they (PwC) looked at it a couple of years ago, they found that 200,000 people had actually, actively gone on to unregulated sites in the previous year.

“I have not met anyone who has experience of problems with gambling who has not been participating in the black market economy.”

Harris’ experience could hardly be more contrasting.

“I have dealt with thousands and thousands of cases, of people who have been harmed by this industry – not one of them has gambled on the black market,” she said.

Whatever those specific consequences, Cruddace stresses affordability checks must be undertaken only as part of a wider review.

He is also concerned that in-play betting markets are most hazardous for problem gamblers, because they allow no time to reflect and consider between bets.

“To look at the blunt instrument of affordability, in isolation from all these other things we’ve been discussing, is simply a mistake,” he said.

“For me, speed of play is a really key thing, and that’s a marker of harm.

“I think there is an argument that there is a slight difference between a sports bet with intervals – where you can study the form, have a view – as opposed to a very fast speed-of-play product.”

Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of Clean Up Gambling, corroborates that view – and believes a business model promoting those bets above others should be reset.

“As the House of Lords found, 60 per cent of the profits are coming from per cent of people who are problem or at-risk gamblers,” he said.

“I think the gambling industry is generating far too much of its money from people who are losing more than they can afford.

“They’re so keen to peddle their most addictive products – the slots and the online casino – that unfortunately the people who use them are very likely to get addicted.”

Harris, MP for Swansea East, shares the same concerns.

“What I want to see come from it (Gambling Review) is that the vulnerable gamblers, people who through mental-health and public-health issues, are unable to control their gambling and are addicted – primarily to online slot machines – they are the ones we need to protect,” she said.

“That is the whole purpose of everything we are doing, to protect those vulnerable (people) and children who are increasingly becoming targets … of the gambling industry.

“We are talking here about people who are gambling way, way in excess of what they can afford – in many cases are stealing or committing fraud to fund their gambling.

“They have tried to talk to the gambling operators and the Gambling Commission and say ‘stop me, because I can’t stop myself’ – and they have no support whatsoever.”

She too sees an emphasis on instant, frenetic gambling as the major problem.

“People online just keep pressing buttons – and they’ve got no time to think,” she added.

“The devices are made to make them encouraging, enticing and hypnotic almost.

“I am not a prohibitionist – I just want to make sure that those who are exceptionally vulnerable, and children, are protected from the dangers of addictive and dangerous gambling.”

Simmonds believes the industry is taking necessary action, but acknowledges further progress is needed.

“I’m absolutely certain that there is a lot more that we can do and will do,” she said.

“It has to be holistic – so we are working with banks … we’re working with the NHS.”

Review of gambling laws will seek to ensure legislation is ‘fit for the digital age’

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston has confirmed a wide-ranging review of gambling laws will look at betting advertising in sport.

The review of the 2005 Gambling Act has been announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, as the Government seeks to ensure gambling legislation is fit for the digital age.

Huddleston told the House of Commons on Tuesday: “We will consider gambling advertising, including sports sponsorship, while taking into account the extremely difficult financial situation that many sports organisations find themselves in now, as well as broadcasters, as a result of Covid.”

In response to a question from Ronnie Cowan, the Scottish National Party MP for Inverclyde, about whether the review would seek to speak to those with a lived experience of the harms of gambling addiction, Huddleston said: “The Secretary of State and I have already met with many victims and their families and we will continue to do so.

“In terms of sport, if there is evidence of harm coming from sponsorship and advertising, we will act, and I welcome the scrutiny that he and others will pay to this review as it progresses.”

The terms of reference for the review state: “A significant channel for gambling brand marketing is sponsorship of sports teams and events, including shirt sponsorship and similar deals with sports bodies.

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“Commercial arrangements with gambling operators are a significant source of income for British sports and teams, particularly horse racing and football teams.

“While the government has always been clear that sporting bodies must consider their responsibility to the welfare of fans and supporters when agreeing such deals, we have equally recognised their right to benefit from commercial deals.

“However, with growing public concern about the relationship between sport and gambling, we are seeking evidence on the positive and negative outcomes of this relationship to make sure we can strike an appropriate balance in developing policy.”

Conservative MP Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) outlined the financial contribution made by betting companies to sports such as horse racing.

He said: “Can I join (Conservative MP Craig Whittaker) and just remind (Nigel Huddleston) of the enormous contribution which betting companies make to horse racing to the tune of about £350 million a year, which is a very large amount to that sport even in ordinary times.

“At the moment, like other sports, it’s going through very, very difficult times and without that contribution, horse racing would not survive.”

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston (David Davies/PA)

Mr Huddleston responded: “Horse racing is of course a vital industry in the UK. I can confirm that the Levy actually is not due for review on horse racing to 2021, it’s not explicitly part of this review, but the role that gambling has and (its) link with sport, we recognise that there are some challenges but also many upsides and we will consider those as part of this review.”

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust said in a statement: “Betting on horse racing is enjoyed by millions of people safely and responsibly, with a low prevalence for gambling-related harm.

“Despite the low levels of problem gambling in the sport, racing promotes responsible gambling and is committed to working with the betting industry to further reduce risk. We will also work closely with our partners in the betting and racing industry to formulate our response to the consultation.

“We are pleased to hear that the review will be evidence-based and we look forward to proposals that are proportionate and focused on those at risk. We know the Government is aware of the potential impact on related industries such as British racing and the 80,000 livelihoods it supports.

“The Minister, Nigel Huddleston, made clear in his address that the challenging conditions that sports find themselves in, and the importance of legitimate commercial relationships between sport and gambling, will be considered as part of the review.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust
British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Racing and betting’s unique, interdependent relationship has been recognised by Government in many ways, including through the Horserace Betting Levy. British racing has laid the groundwork for the gambling consultation with an industry group meeting for several months.

“Detailed submissions and representations were also made to the recent Lords Special Inquiry, which highlighted the ‘special position’ of racing and betting.”

Rust welcomed the announcement that the Government is to look again at the timetable for reviewing the Levy.

Rust added: “We welcome the announcement from the Minister that DCMS will examine in 2021 the timetable for reviewing the Levy. Racing industry leaders agreed that there was an urgent case for reform as part of our plans to recover from Covid-19 and have presented a united front to Government.

“As the Minister outlined in the House today, there are ongoing conversations between the BHA and Government on Levy reform. We look forward to working with DCMS officials and ministers in 2021 to ensure that the Levy is sustainable and fit for the digital age.”