Former Minister Whittingdale issues black market warning at BGC AGM

The issue of black market operators has been raised once again as John Whittingdale, the former DCMS Minister tasked with overseeing the 2005 Gambling Act review, addressed the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC)’s AGM yesterday.

Speaking to the assembled BGC delegates, Whittingdale – who served as Minister of State for Media and Data between February 2020 and September 2021 – commented on concerns regarding affordability checks and gambling advertising, as reported by the Racing Post

In particular, the Conservative MP for Maldon argued that by placing a heavier ‘burden’ on those who gamble safely the government would prompt many bettors ‘look elsewhere’ – i.e. search for the services of illicit operators providing betting products outside the scope of regulatory oversight.

He remarked: “There are some in the campaign groups who dismiss it, who say the black market is tiny, that it is vastly exaggerated by the industry as a sort of bogeyman they use to try and argue against controls. I don’t believe that. I believe the black market is real.”

On advertising, although acknowledging that there should be some restrictions and requirements, the former Minister asserted that a ban on arrangements – such as the anticipated prohibition of sponsorship deals between football clubs and operators – would have a negative impact on the sporting sector. 

He also dismissed claims that advertising fuels problem gambling, saying: “I was very much aware that firstly the evidence that advertising leads to an increase in problem gambling is pretty much non-existent. Some have argued that it does but certainly the assessments I have seen showed no linkage.”

Whittingdale vacated his Ministerial position in September 2021, returning to the backbenches after PM Boris Johnson initiated a cabinet reshuffle. His responsibility for overseeing the overhaul of gambling regulations was taken on by Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South. 

Although widely regarded as having a tougher stance on the betting industry than his predecessor, Philp eased some concerns surrounding the issue of affordability checks whilst speaking at the ninth annual GambleAware conference last month. 

Addressing the attendees, the Minister agreed with the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) view that enforcing customers spending over £100 to provide payslips or bank statements would be “unwelcome, disruptive and disproportionate to the risks”.

Instead, Philp argued that the industry should effectively leverage data and technology in order to inform whether or not a bettor’s spending justified more intrusive affordability checks, whilst also encouraging greater collaboration with other sectors, such as finance.

“As minister for Digital, I am really keen to explore the role of technology and available data, such as that held by credit reference agencies, to make these sorts of checks work smoothly in a way that is acceptable to customers,” he continued.

“At high levels of gambling, more intrusive checks are appropriate. I also want to be clear that checks based on spend and financial circumstances must supplement rather than supersede all the existing requirements on operators to monitor play data, identify risk and intervene accordingly.”

Philp’s dismissal of £100 affordability checks and more stringent financial oversight of customers appears to have been welcomed by Whittingdale, who described the idea of enforcing all bettors to register and undergo assessments as ‘an extraordinary suggestion’.

He asserted: “I don’t believe for a second the government will do it, but it’s an indication of the extent to which some people are seeking to impose regulation which would destroy your industry.”

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