As the long-expected U.K. Gambling Commission’s White Paper nears completion, the industry trade group, the Betting and Gaming Council, has asked the government to protect the most vulnerable gamblers within the report. The council also said in the past two years, the number of players using unlicensed sites has doubled, from 220,000 to 460,000, with the amount wagered in the billions, according to iGaming Business.
The findings come from industry research and a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report the council commissioned which has not yet been released. It will be presented as part of the Council’s response to the white paper, according to iGaming Business. The white paper is part of the U.K. Gambling Act Review.
Black market activity is present across Europe. In Norway, unlicensed gaming accounts for 66 percent of money bet. In France, with strict product limitations, it makes up 57 percent of all money wagered. In Italy, where all advertising of betting and gaming is banned, 23 percent of money wagered comes from the black market.
The report argues that unnecessary rules are a key reason for high levels of black-market play.
“This analysis suggests that the U.K. has a more ‘open’ online gambling market and currently has a smaller unlicensed market share than our European benchmarks,” the report reads.
“Jurisdictions with a higher unlicensed market share tend to exhibit one or more restrictive regulatory or licensing characteristics.”
Michael Dugher, chief executive of the BGC, warned that the black market could benefit if the regulations become too restrictive.
“We support the Gambling Review but there is a real danger that it leads to the regulated industry being smaller and the illegal black market growing substantially,” said Dugher. “This research is stark about the dangers of the black market, we have to learn lessons from abroad, and make the right choice at this dangerous crossroads.”
“Any shift to the unsafe black market would also jeopardize the £350 million a year which our members currently give to horseracing in sponsorship, media rights and the betting levy.”
In related U.K. news, for the first time since 2016, attitudes towards gambling have improved, according to a quarterly survey from the U.K. Gambling Commission. The December 2021 edition of the phone survey polled 4,021 people.
For December 2020, 63.4 percent of respondents said that “gambling should be discouraged.” But in the 2021 edition, the percentage dropped to 58.9 percent, according to iGaming Business.
Similarly, the portion of the population who agreed that gambling was “dangerous for family life” dropped from 74.5 percent to 69.9 percent, which was the lowest total over the five surveys.
In addition, the number of people who said that “most who gamble do so sensibly” reached a high of 40.2 percent.
Those who agreed the phrase “gambling is fair and can be trusted” rose from 31.9 percent to 36.2 percent among those who identified as gamblers.
Overall, 42.6 percent of the population gambled in the four weeks before being surveyed, a smidgen ahead of 2020, but well-below the pre-pandemic level of 47.2 percent. When excluding the National Lottery, 28.6 percent of the population had gambled, which again was around level with 2020, but down from 2019.
The portion of the population that had gambled online in the past year was 25.3 percent, which was not a statistically significant increase from 2020 but was significantly higher than the 21.1 percent recorded in 2019.
Looking at specific types of gambling, National Lottery draws remained by far the most popular form of play, with 26.3 percent taking part. However, the brand’s flagship Lotto draw experienced a significant decline in play, with EuroMillions becoming a more popular game.
Online slot and instant win play declined, as did online casino gaming Sports betting remained stable, with 5.3 percent of the population saying they had bet on sports.
The survey also asked a number of questions to determine the level of gambling-related harm in the population. Here, the low levels of harm first recorded earlier this year were maintained. BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said initiatives from the industry had helped keep the problem gambling rate low.
“Our initiatives have included using advertising to promote safer gambling messages and tools like deposit limits and time-outs, investing more in research and treatment, and introducing tough new rules on VIP schemes,” he said.
In other U.K. news, data released by the Great Britain Gambling Commission reveals a slight decrease in online gambling revenue between October and December 2021 as compared to the same quarter in 2020.
Gross gambling yield (GGY) came to £1.20 billion, down 6 percent from, according to iGaming Business. Slot game GGY increased 1 percent to £568.1 million. Other online casino games rose 4 percent to £173.3 million, while poker GGY was £19.9 million (US$26.9 million).
Real event betting dropped 16 percent to £460.7 million. The previous quarter included a number of major sporting events. The average session length during the quarter was 18.7 minutes, with 8.1 million sessions lasting less than an hour.
For December 2021, total online GGY was £420.5 million. Slot GGY reached £200.2 million, the highest figure since May 2021. Real-event betting had GGY of £142.0 million during the month, while the figure for other casino games was £62.7 million.
In U.K. addiction news, the National Health Service is opening two new gambling clinics, one in Southampton and another in Stoke-On-Trent, for a total of seven throughout England.
The NHS will also stop taking cash from the gambling industry for the treatment of people suffering addiction. By April 1, the NHS will fully fund its own services, according to Inews.
This change comes as the agency faces record demand for support.
National mental health director, Claire Murdoch, said the funding decision evolved from patients who were uncomfortable about using services paid for by gaming industry.
GambleAware accounts show it collected £16 million between April and December last year in voluntary donations from the gambling industry to fund a range of treatment services. These include NHS gambling clinics, which received £1.2 million in 2020/21.
The overall voluntary pledges to GambleAware last year included £1 million from William Hill, just over £4 million from Bet365 and £4 million from Entain.
Last April, Murdoch told the Guardian gambling firms had profited during the pandemic but were leaving the NHS to “pick up the pieces” of addiction and should be hit with a compulsory levy to fund treatment.
“Our clinicians feel there are conflicts of interest in their clinics being part-funded by resources from the gambling industry. But the NHS cannot address the harms caused by gambling alone, nor is it the NHS’s job to tackle this on its own.”
“We are therefore committed to maintaining a constructive operational relationship with GambleAware as this change is implemented and continuing to work together on developing a treatment system that is fit for purpose.”
Murdoch said the NHS would like to see the industry take “firm action” so that people do not need to seek help from the health service.
“We hope that you will continue to join us in calling for the gambling industry to be more heavily regulated and taxed to generate public funding to address gambling harms,” she said.
All the services are due to be evaluated later this year which is likely to lead to further clinics.
Overall, it is estimated that around 0.5 percent of the U.K. adult population, around 246,000 people, are likely to have some form of gambling addiction and 2.2 million are at risk.
“The opening of two new gambling clinics in May, as a part of our £2.3 billion investment into mental health services, will mean we can help even more people with the most serious gambling problems,” Murdoch said. “I am committed to protecting people harmed by gambling, including through supporting treatment and recovery at the specialist NHS gambling addiction clinics as part of the NHS Long-term Plan investment of £15 million to expand these specialist services.