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UK: Affordability checks will undermine the safer gambling success story, argues Gambling Business Group CEO, Peter Hannibal

Peter Hannibal, chief executive of the cross-sector Gambling Business Group, has warned that the introduction of affordability checks as proposed by the UK Gambling Commission, will jeopardise the current low incidence of problem gambling and in the process undo much of the positive work that’s been achieved by the industry in partnership with its regulator and the wider stakeholder community, including the safer gambling agencies and charities.

Commenting on the Gambling Commission’s proposal that players should be required to provide evidence of affordability based on the highly controversial creation of a monthly discretionary spend ceiling – a figure which the cross-party think-tank the Social Market Foundation has recommended is set at £23 a week (£100 pcm) - Peter Hannibal said: “I would like to stress from the outset that although the Gambling Commission’s affordability proposal has been framed in relation to online players, it would be naïve in the extreme to assume that the principles and philosophy will not be extended to all gambling entertainment activities across all verticals including Adult Gaming Centres, Licensed Betting Offices and Bingo Clubs in some shape or form.

 “While this proposal is wrong on virtually every level imaginable, the biggest concern for all those who genuinely care about safer gambling and continuing the UK industry’s internationally acclaimed success story in consistently maintaining problem gambling levels to below 1 percent for the last three decades, is the impact affordability checks will have on driving players away from regulated and responsible sites to unregulated offshore sites.

He added: “Currently the demand to play on unregulated sites is limited but the unintended and I assume unforeseen consequences of affordability checks will be to create such a market and then to sustain it.

 “Make no mistake, this is prohibition by another name and wherever you look in the world prohibition has never worked and will never work, more than often creating exactly the set of problems that it sets out to address.”

Hannibal believes there’s a danger a proposal of this significance does not receive the necessary degree of scrutiny particularly in relation to its’ impact on safer gambling. He explained: “In December I contacted DCMS regarding what I feel was a balanced and logical set of Terms of Reference for the Review of Gambling, but pointing out that it was illogical for the Gambling Commission to be continuing their own unilateral consultation into what it refers somewhat euphemistically as ‘customer interaction requirements and guidance’.

“I argued that it would be more logical to include any proposals for controls on consumption - that could have a profound impact on the public - as part of the Government Review. It would also be in the public’s interest for proposals for such intrusions into personal affairs to be subject to the same Aim and Objectives as those DCMS have set out for the Review of the Act which appear free of preconceptions and well considered.

“The affordability proposal raises a huge range of quite fundamental ethical, legal and practical issues – not least a precedent for state intervention in consumer spending alongside a quite startling presumption that gambling entertainment, enjoyed responsibly by 99 percent of consumers, represents a public health issue way beyond that of tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption or obesity. As such it merits much deeper, evidence-based scrutiny.”