UK bookmakers to appoint independent watchdog with power to impose fines

uk-bookmakers-watchdogA quartet of the UK’s biggest bookmakers have agreed to rein in their marketing in a bid to avoid having the government impose even tougher restrictions. On Monday, the CEOs of Gala Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill will announce plans to institute an independent watchdog to police their activities. This watchdog, who will begin walking the bookie beat by January, will report to the world any transgressions he or she uncovers in a ‘name and shame’ program designed to ensure the gaming companies toe the line.

The Telegraph reported that the bookies plan to recruit a “standards commissioner” whose office will be provided with a “multi-million pound” budget and the power to impose fines on any bookie caught breaking the new rules. Despite this ability to bite the hand that feeds, the bookies insist their new overlord will have complete independence.

Among the new rules the bookies will pledge to live by is the curbing of aggressive television pitches featuring ‘free bets’ or similar bonus offers before the 9pm watershed. But with the four bookies at the heart of this program operating around 7k betting shops between them, much of the new code’s focus will be at the retail level. The code will pay particular attention to the fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) that have become lightning rods for anti-gambling campaigners and have earned the bookies no end of bad press.

The big four bookies have pledged to expunge all FOBT marketing from their betting shops and one-fifth of all promotional material adorning shop windows will feature responsible gambling messaging. Implementation of these measures will be accompanied by a “major” advertising campaign to raise awareness of problem gambling behavior.

This move, plans for which were announced in February, amounts to what Ladbrokes CEO Richard Glynn called a “material step and offer by the industry to effectively hand over monitoring of what we are doing.” Gala Coral CEO Carl Leaver said the bookies were happy to fund their watchdog’s reign of terror if it would “ensure the public has got confidence” in the betting industry’s ability to do “the right thing.”