The U.K. Gambling Commission (UKGC) is relentless in its pursuit of handicapping the gaming industry as much as possible. U.K. authorities don’t seem to have an issue with underage drinking or domestic abuse, both of which have increased over the past two years, but find someone spending €100 and suddenly there’s a problem. One of the many controls the UKGC wants to implement is an “affordability check,” which would require scrutiny of anyone who loses over £100 ($137) a month. This, combined with the commission’s crack down on gambling advertising, could lead to a number of sports throwing in the towel and giving up.
The founder and chairman of Matchroom Sports, Barry Hearn, asserts that all of the measures the UKGC is implementing to protect consumers are going to have a negative impact on sports activity. Matchroom promotes sports such as snooker, darts, boxing and more, and the commission’s move to completely eliminate gambling advertising in sports would be a “disaster” to all of them. Hearn, who is also the chairman of World Snooker, bases his assessment on history, having seen what happened when the U.K. decided to ban tobacco sponsorships from sports in 2005.
Some might argue that snooker, et al. was able to bounce back from that tobacco ban, even though it was crippled for a couple of years. However, what allowed them to stage a rebound was the approval of gambling sponsorship laws that were introduced in 2007. Losing this now, especially amid the COVID-19 crisis and Brexit, would be permanently detrimental to a number of sports, predicts Hearn.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to provide consumer protection from activity that might be harmful, as long as the measures don’t outweigh the costs. According to a number of studies, the U.K. gambling market is composed of only around 3% of individuals that could be classified as “problem gamblers.” This is drastically lower than the percentage associated with problem drinking; however, it is still possible for a 16-year old to belly up to the bar and ask for a pint. Many “problem gambling” studies have been led by gambling opponents who specifically worded their surveys in such a way as to entice responses that would benefit their cause, bringing into question the validity of all of those studies.
Hearn isn’t necessarily opposed to the introduction of regulations. However, he wants them to be common-sense approaches to regulating an activity that is a vital part of the economy. Blanket bans have never proven effective anywhere and have been viewed as a form of oppression that doesn’t sit well with most people. The introduction of an “affordability check” seems to cross the line, as well, unless the U.K. plans on running similar checks on how much people are spending in bars and restaurants every month.