As the UK gambling sector prepares to embark on regulatory change, Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council wrote for the Telegraph on the substantial political impact that it could lead to.
Dugher urged Ministers and MPs to be wary of the views of their constituents – particularly the numerous working-class voters, such as those in the ‘Red Wall’ chain of Midlands and Northern English seats, who switched from Labour to Conservative in 2019.
“Many voters see betting, and the sports which rely on revenues from betting, as part of their culture,” he explained. “They are resentful of ‘COVID mission creep’. Boris Johnson has enough on his plate without picking another fight with Tory MPs concerned about state interference in personal freedoms.
“Many of those Conservatives are trying to hold onto working-class voters who regard restrictions on betting as a culture war waged by high-handed politicians who don’t approve of how they spend their time and money.”
Citing a recent survey by Racing TV, Dugher argued that many working-class voters in the Red Wall would show discontent with heavier restrictions on gambling, particularly if said regulations had an impact on their privacy.
The survey in question found that 85% of punters believed that there is a danger consumers would move towards the unregulated black market should restrictions be implemented, whilst 95% of respondents would not be happy if bookmakers were to have access to their bank accounts or if they were made to hand over payslips as proof of funds.
Dugher continued: “How the government safeguards jobs and personal freedoms, prevents gamblers drifting off to the unsafe black market, and ensures more protections for the vulnerable and those at risk, without interfering in the enjoyment of millions of responsible gamblers, is a balancing act.”
Stricter regulation, he argued, will lead to a reduction in the regulated betting industry – which Dugher asserted is the main goal of ‘prohibitionist’ gambling reform advocates – but not a reduction in gambling overall.
“If people are restricted from betting with licensed operators, with all their safer gambling measures, they will simply move to the many unlicensed, unregulated and unsafe gambling websites in the black market,” the Shadow Cabinet member maintained.
“Ministers are walking a tightrope. We hope they keep their balance,” he continued, whilst also sharing his view that greater protection of children and young people should be a key outcome of the legislative overhaul.