Michael Dugher: “Gambling reform cannot be hijacked by extremists’ agendas” 

As the long-awaited publishing of the government’s white paper on gambling reforms looms on the horizon, Michael Dugher Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has warned MPs to ‘ignore extremists’ trying to influence outcomes.

Writing an opinion piece on parliamentary news source PoliticsHome, Dugher reiterated the need for industry reforms to be ‘led by the evidence’, away from hysteria that has surrounded the debate.   

Player affordability has been deemed the most contentious subject of the gambling review, as anti-gambling ministers have called for the government to impose mandatory affordability checks on consumers.

Dugher warned of a direct consumer conflict, should the government proceed with affordability checks, citing a YouGov poll published this January that revealed that fewer than one in five people (16%) would be happy to accept arbitrary checks.

Balancing a delicate subject matter, Dugher underlined ‘the need to get future changes right’ – as the same YouGov poll revealed that 59% of players believe that imposed blanket checks on affordability “would lead to a large or substantial risk of customers using unlicensed sites”.

Maintaining the BGC’s headline warning, Dugher cited that UK online gambling had already become a target jurisdiction for black market actors, as Big-4 auditor PWC revealed last year that “UK punters using unlicensed sites had more than doubled in just two years.”

The UK’s regulated marketplace is being undermined by “thousands of illegal gambling websites that don’t adhere to the strict standards in the licensed and regulated sector.”

“This includes targeting problem gamblers, not carrying out strict ID and age verification checks or offering the range of safer gambling tools provided by BGC members, like deposit limits and cooling off periods.”

BGC members have invested significantly on funds and resources to improve all disciplines related to safer gambling and customer safety. Technology has been greatly improved to spot, monitor and intervene with at-risk customers.

Since its inception in 2019, the BGC has been driven to raise industry standards in support of the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) safer gambling agenda governing the sector.

The BGC underlined its shared objectives with the UKGC in which Dugher acknowledged that  – “We are actually in favour of further enhanced spending checks but believe the focus should be on problem gamblers or those at risk – not disrupting the enjoyment of the overwhelming majority of people who bet safely and responsibly.”

Pointing to the BGC’s track record supporting UKGC projects and directives, Dugher expressed his disappointment at yesterday’s publication of a report by the Betting and Gaming APPG that branded the Commission as a ‘underperforming regulator that acted beyond its regulatory powers’.

“The report reminded me of the previous call by Iain Duncan-Smith to abolish the GC. I disagree with both. The GC is not perfect and is changing, but the regulator is rightly and importantly pushing forward steps to further raise standards on safer gambling.”

Cooperation between operators and regulators was deemed critical to the safeguarding of UK customers, as BGC members had voluntarily imposed strict age verification checks, a ban on credit card payments, advertising restrictions and safety changes to game designs.

Progress on safer gambling is underscored by the Commission reporting that problem gambling rates are now 0.3%, compared to 0.6% at the same time last year.

Dugher concluded – “In the end, when it comes to reforming gambling, there are extremists on both sides of this debate. There are the anti-gambling prohibitionists on one extreme and there are still sadly a few people in the industry who aren’t prepared to embrace change. But change is coming.”

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