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Gambling Commission (UKGC) CEO Andrew Rhodes has criticised the Racing Post for “imbalanced” reporting on the topic of financial vulnerability and risk checks.

So-called ‘affordability checks’ – more accurately referred to as financial vulnerability and risk checks – were a key element of the UK government’s white paper review of the 2005 Gambling Act, which is expected to bring about several changes to gambling regulation in the country moving forward.

The UKGC is currently engaged in a public consultation with gambling industry stakeholders and customers in order to understand how best to implement the checks.

UKGC snaps back

The UKGC said that in recent months, the Racing Post has on a daily basis “provided readers with imbalanced stories about the ongoing financial risk consultation and frequently failed to seek a right of reply from the Commission”.

“The Racing Post has refused to publish the letter despite its content being highly relevant to readers,” said a statement on the UKGC website.

“Considering this blatant lack of balance in a newspaper we have decided to publish the letter on our website.”

The letter

The accompanying open letter from Rhodes addressed readers of the Racing Post directly and invited them to engage with the ongoing consultation on financial vulnerability checks and other updates to UK gambling regulation.

The paper’s reporting has suggested that “under the proposals a good proportion of gambling consumers would have to be handing over payslips or bank statements when they want to place a bet,” Rhodes wrote. “This is not true.”

Instead, he offered, it is estimated that just 3% of accounts would need to undergo financial risk assessments under the proposals, while just 0.3% would be subject to checks that were “not frictionless,” such as those carried out via credit reference agency or open banking data.

“This means 99.7% of customers would not be asked to directly provide any information,” he added.

The Gambling Commission therefore invited Racing Post readers to share their “views on how the 0.3% of account holders could have their financial risk assessed if they are not asked to directly provide the additional financial information.”

Rhodes added that the vast majority of assessments (some 90%) would be carried out via credit reference agencies and open-source banking data.

The checks would not give operators access to customers’ full bank account data, while the information they do receive may only be used for assessing risks of harm – not for practices such as identifying and restricting winning accounts.

Further to these arguments, Rhodes added that checks would only be applied online – not at retail or on-track bookmakers, for example – and that any checks carried out by operators would not affect customers’ credit scores.

More misused statistics

Rhodes further added clarity on often-misused statistics around gambling harm in the UK, having previously called on the media to avoid spreading “misinformation” on the matter.

The Health Survey for England 2018 suggested that “the percentage of people who have bet online with a bookmaker in the past year and are experiencing problem gambling is 3.7%. And a further 5.2% are at moderate risk of gambling harm,” Rhodes wrote.

The government’s white paper intends to tackle those figures by implementing financial risk checks, he added, while “most customers would not undergo checks under these proposals.”

Racing Post reporting

A search of the Racing Post’s website shows no lack of reporting on the matter of the Gambling Act review and proposed introduction of financial vulnerability and risk checks.

Headlines from recent months include the following:

  • ‘Many will have their joy of following racing changed forever’ – readers’ views on affordability checks
  • ‘An ill-targeted, blanket, one-size-fits-all policy’ – Conservative peer hits out over affordability checks
  • It’s D-day for punters as Gambling Commission chiefs face grilling from MPs over affordability checks
  • Racing Post readers: ‘Affordability checks are a devastating threat to my punting passion’
  • Sir Mark Prescott on affordability proposals: ‘It’s very dangerous and they may well achieve everything they don’t want’
  • ‘The sport we love is being targeted by people who have no understanding or concept of racing or betting’

Racing Post response

In response to the letter, Racing Post editor Tom Kerr posted on X that the paper “told the Gambling Commission we welcomed a letter about its proposals, just as we routinely approach it for comment on relevant stories.

“However, we told the GC we were unwilling to publish a letter if it misrepresented disagreements over our coverage as errors of fact,” he added.

That, Kerr said, is what the regulator’s letter did, by repeating “contentious assertions from the white paper and consultation without engaging with the numerous concerns raised by Racing Post readers and contributors.”

Kerr concluded by inviting Rhodes to join him for an in-depth interview, in order to allow him “to communicate directly with Racing Post readers”.

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