BGC: Banning free bets will hit horse racing and punters

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has warned legislators and gambling campaigners on potential risks of banning free bet promotions. 

Issuing a statement, the UK’s betting industry trade association and standards body argued that such a move could have negative consequences for both customers and the sport of horse racing. 

Citing YouGov research, the BGC asserted that 69% of bettors believe free bets should be permitted and a further 63% saw the offers as a ‘valuable part’ of the wagering experience. 

The organisation’s main concern – reiterated over the past year throughout the 2005 Gambling Act review – is that a ban on free bets could push punters towards black market firms, with the YouGov study showing that 28% ‘would consider’ illicit alternatives should a ban be introduced. 

Michael Dugher, BGC Chief Executive, said: “Promotions and offers are part of the customer experience for any vibrant industry, including our intensely competitive sector, which supports 119,000 jobs and brings in £4.4 billion in taxes to the Treasury.

“Blanket bans on offers would be anti-punter and would severely degrade that customer experience, punishing the overwhelming majority of punters who bet safely. Problem gambling is 0.2%. Imagine the outcry if supermarkets were forced to ban offers and promotions for beer and wine? We see no difference to our industry.

“A draconian ban would damage a sector which tens of thousands rely on for their livelihoods, by turning punters away from the regulated industry into the arms of unsafe, unregulated black market gambling, where the numbers using such sites has doubled in recent years and the amount bet is in the billions. These sites have none of the safer gambling tools the regulated industry employ.”

The prevalence of black market operators in the UK betting and gaming sector has been one of the BGC’s main talking points as legislators and regulators looked to overhaul the country’s gambling oversight over the past 19 months. 

This is also not the first time the association has used YouGov research to support its stances, notably pointing to a study in January which showed that 58% of respondents rejected affordability checks, whilst 59% said there was a ‘large or substantial risk’ of customers migrating to black market firms if their finances were investigated.

It has also been estimated that the number of bettors using unregulated operators increased from 220,000 to 460,000 according to PwC data, with the revenue made by the illicit sector reportedly standing in the billions.

Additionally, the Council – as well as horse racing stakeholders and MPs in racecourse constituencies – have also voiced concerns about the impact affordability checks could have on the sport, often claiming a potential loss of up to £60 million a year. 

In its latest update, the BGC added that a ban on free bets could also exacerbate the financial strain on horse racing, with the organisation’s analysis estimating a hit of £5 million annually to the racing levy.

“A move like this would also hit the horse racing levy for £5 million, but the loss of punters to the unregulated black market would undoubtedly also hit other regulated funding for racing such as media rights and sponsorship,” Dugher continued.

“We support the government’s ‘evidence-led’ approach to gambling reform, which is why any changes should be carefully targeted to protect vulnerable players and those at risk, not the vast majority who bet safely. 

“Ministers shouldn’t be sticking their nose into how people choose to spend their own money, and the last thing they should be doing at this time is damaging business and sport.”

The outcome of the Gambling Act review is expected later this year – the White Paper was initially marked for publication in the spring – with changes to player protection, marketing, promotions and sponsorship all possibilities.

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