Tottenham Report: The race to regulate By Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports February 15, 2022 at 10:00 pm The UK’s racing industry this week is fighting a war of words across various sections of the media about the progressively distant spectre of the jurisdiction’s Gambling Review. The Racing Post carries numerous articles on the subject, with industry spokespeople warning that threats to impose affordability checks and a ban on advertising could be the death knell for one of the UK’s favourite sports. Racing, it is fair to say, is a defining sport in British culture. Even those who rarely place a bet are wont to have a flutter on the Grand National. It’s a rite of passage to stick a few quid on the big race. In broadcasting terms, it’s what’s known as a “tentpole” event, bringing a guaranteed ratings spike and generally drawing a cross-generational audience – rare in this era of scattered attention spans and disparate media demographics. (When was the last time Mum and Granny sat down to watch a Dota 2 tournament with the kids?) I have fond memories of watching the racing with my grandfather as a child. It was on Channel 4 then and presented by the larger-than-life figure of John McCririck. The presenter would not have looked out of place in an episode of Sherlock Holmes, but there he was on Saturday afternoons in the early ’90s, speaking as though on fast-forward and gesticulating wildly down the lens into millions of front rooms. Of course, it has all changed now. Channel 4 lost the broadcast rights to the sport in 2016 and it moved to ITV the following year. McCririck, God rest him, looks down from atop what is probably a cloud of cigar smoke, shaking his mutton chops at this week’s doom-laden reporting. That’s because, according to Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher, British racing is presented with a “clear and present danger” in the form of the Gambling Review. One estimate in a Racing Post article on Monday suggested that affordability checks could lead to a loss of upwards of £60m per year to British racing. Meanwhile, bans on sponsorship and advertising could have substantial knock-on effects, not only to the racing industry itself, but no doubt to the massive broadcasting operation set up around it. “Racing without betting simply wouldn’t exist,” was Dugher’s draconian conclusion. “The racing industry needs to get real and understand that, realise that our fight is their fight, and the coming weeks are absolutely critical to their future.” Dugher is rallying the troops, of course. All his members, from all gambling verticals, share the same fear that the review will distort the market in ways that well-meaning (she says generously) politicians may not have foreseen. Gambling Minister Chris Philp has vowed not to “undermine the financial condition” of British racing through the Gambling Review, but Dugher warns that blindly accepting Philp’s pledge would be “naive”. The chief executive of broadcaster Racecourse Media Group (RMG), Martin Stevenson, appears to stand with Dugher on this, also calling for the racing industry to stay alive to the risks posed by the review. RMG is reported to have been urging race-goers and subscribers to contact their MPs with regard to the Gambling Review and highlight the perceived risks to the racing industry. Apparently, more than 5,600 people have done so. “We absolutely support and endorse the importance of protecting vulnerable individuals from gambling-related harm”, Stevenson told the Racing Post, “but it is vital that any new legislation is proportionate, targeted, and evidence-based.” He added, “While the minister’s comments last week were welcomed, we definitely shouldn’t be taking our foot off the accelerator. As Michael says, the next few weeks are absolutely critical and it’s definitely not too late to write to your MP.” Meanwhile, the BGC has launched its own initiative, in partnership with self-exclusion scheme GAMSTOP, to share data on players among operators in a bid to provide a ‘singular customer view’ to prevent gambling harm. The trial of the data-sharing scheme was blasted by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Labour MP Carolyn Harris in The Times today (February 15) as another attempt by the industry to “mark its own homework”. The pair argue that the proposed affordability checks so feared by the racing industry are the only real answer to harm prevention. “The industry states that its trial will ‘include all those identified as at risk of harm’, yet it is the industry that will define who is harmed and what that harm means”, they wrote. “The most accurate predictor of risk is spend. So in order to have an effective harm-reduction metric, it has to include an affordability model.” The article also suggested that the industry had not wanted a central database on player behaviour, because it would be an infringement of civil liberties, when it is understood that the Information Commissioner’s Office paused the BGC’s initiative out of such concerns. Smith and Harris have form. They joined forces to apply pressure on the government regarding fixed-odds betting terminals, resulting in the £2 maximum stake reform in 2019. The Gambling Review was launched in December 2020 and was expected to report back late last year, but a white paper is now expected in the spring. The aim of the review was to establish legislation “fit for the digital age”, but it is not clear whether enough evidence has been gathered to meet that remit or Stevenson’s plea for proportionate reform. That said, 16,000 submissions are understood to have been received as a result of the government’s call for evidence. Hopefully, some of them will shed unequivocal light on the relative harm caused from gambling on different verticals, online or in-person, and on different demographics. It is important that we protect the national pastimes that bring us together, but it is also critical that policy makers are not blinded by nostalgia. The industry has already moved online and an honest and nuanced understanding of that part of the market is the only way that any new legislation will add value.