Live in the UK, and it’s hard not to imagine certain large betting concerns as anything other than global success stories. Market leader Bet365 reported but a few years ago customer sign ups at 14 million. It’s now well past the 23 million mark. Their website appears the best ‘platform’ in sportsbook and gaming. If shares were available, I’d be buying.
How you ‘grow’ a company by such a margin, whilst remaining within UK gambling commission guidelines, is questionable. It’s abundantly clear the company’s move into China, in doing so somehow circumnavigating banking laws, has been a huge winner. In spite of the reasonable objections of the Chinese government. In their state, gambling is illegal. Even if it were legal, they should be entitled to reasonable taxes from the same. Bet365 lawyers argue it isn’t illegal if they trade with Chinese customers from another state. In other words, their lawyers have made it somehow acceptable. I fancy Bet365 execs won’t be vacationing in China any time soon. Their stay would be permanent.
Our own Gambling Commission set out its view on black market activity at its inception.
14.5 For each of these markets, the Commission will ask operators why they think provision of gambling facilities is not illegal either because they are licensed to operate in that jurisdiction or because they have satisfied themselves that it is not illegal for them to provide gambling facilities to those players. If businesses are relying on legal advice as part of evidence of responsible due diligence we will expect businesses to tell us who they have been advised by – we will not expect to see legal opinions as such but will wish to understand the legal rationale.
Fine, so the previous Commission executive decided not to pursue the matter, and awards licenses to bet365 to trade with UK customers dutifully every year.
Bet365 has also taken its business to Gibraltar, from where it’s safer from regulation and of course taxation. It has joined virtually every online betting company who originated in the UK, and do business with its citizens. Racing now ‘negotiates’ a voluntary deal with 365 and others there for its share of earnings on the sport. I really hope the Spanish invade that troublesome enclave. Such situations don’t make you popular with regulators, or governments. Bet365, for the time being, don’t seem concerned.
I say times change. Governments change and critically the regulator has changed. It’s muscled up. New management have arrived.
Leaving aside Ray Winstone, regulators, and governments for a second, I have observed over the last decade a marked deterioration in the relations between Bookmakers, and their customers. I regularly hear, see, and experience examples of poor behaviour. Relations between the two parties are at an all time low. I’m surprised anyone signs up.
Cloudy terms and conditions, offers based on tiny stakes, over generous odds, best odds guarantees, (even enhanced BOG), and free bets. A culture of giveaways, in which if the savvy customer habitually partakes, he finds himself restricted. Ostracised. A pariah. A beg-a-bet culture in the place of the former friendly ‘war’ between bookmaker and his customer. These days, the customer is part of a number crunching exercise.People sign up not out of loyalty, but naked reward. My Father would not be party to this style of business.
Nobody writes to you from these companies to thank you for your business. if you bet with Bet365 for example, you’re probably unaware who the bookmaker really is – they are in fact a private company. There’s no dialogue between bookmaker and client. Because you’re no longer a client. Sign up to lose. Win and move on.
When did it become the job of bookmakers to offer prices, so unsustainable, they choose not to lay a bet to so many of their customers at the odds they advertise? Isn’t this a trading standards issue? If not, then why not?
Have bookmakers ever behaved so poorly? It’s no wonder their image as acceptable business is at an all time low.
Firms such as my own, in the absolute minority, focus on service. It distresses me on occasion to have to restrict a customer for persistent money trading. It’s a catch 22 situation, I have to be competitive to encourage new business, yet the odds I often have to proffer, to compete, are occasionally unsustainable. We do our best though to make the customer experience more akin to British Airways Club, than Ryanair, and a punter who is fair with me, will be returned the compliment. I would see the practice of offering a price, and then not laying a fair bet outlawed. Why are punters treated with such disdain by bookmakers?
I haven’t been in a betting shop, since I stopped working in them in the 80’s. The landscape has changed of course, with Labour’s inglorious attempt to reform the gambling act in 2005. At a stroke they turned LBO’s from sportsbooks to mini casinos. It is an exageration to describe the fixed odds betting terminals (FOBT’s) as akin to ‘crack cocaine.’ It is true, however it was never, and should never, have been the intention of good governance to create a mini casino in every high street.
I make the following statements with absolute confidence.
FOBT’s are clearly massively addictive. They most certainly are the most profitable arm of any betting shop. They most certainly are being used regularly by the criminal element to launder money, (most likely unchallenged, staff aren’t after all policemen!) They have contributed greatly to problems in gambling. They have put folk out of house home, and worse. They contribute to violent behaviour in shops themselves, with machines routinely being vandalised and staff threatened.
Associations like the ABB will of course go about their business arguing against such claims. Indeed the only organisation outside the ABB to stand with the bookmakers on the subject of FOBTs, rather perversely, is the BHA. Another loser they’ve backed! A focus on racing, rather than money, is long overdue from this body.
It is childish however to deny there’s no truth in every one of the points I have just put forward. There are degrees in everything, of course. I do not accept the argument about free choice in gambling if it creates a culture of misery for punters and hatred for the operators as perpetrators. We are not put on this planet to make gambling a nationwide problem. No one, Bruce Millington take note, walks out of a betting shop telling their mates what a great afternoon they had on a FOBT. They might well however say they enjoyed a day at the races, win or lose. It’s unlikely people walk out of Ascot hating Johnny Weatherby for the experience he creates. LBO operators can’t make the same bold claim.
Executives in charge of major betting firms operating FOBT’s have done themselves, and the industry they represent, no service whatsoever in their failures to aggressively deal with the evident problems they create. Or to pay to clear up their mess. Acting like ostriches in the face of criticism from your own customers, reporters, Dispatches, Panorama, MP’s, focus groups, responsible gambling quangos, is neither wise nor realistic. Arguing there’s no ’empirical evidence’ FOBTs exacerbate problem gambling and damage relations is plain stupid. Short term profits equal long-term pain.
Finally, and before I give you my conclusions, there’s the issue of advertising. I’ve just watched Konta defeating her opponent in sterling fashion in Miami. Good girl that. In every AD break we were treated to a different gambling operator peddling their wares with their Hollywood actors. It appears the only control on the number of adverts the operators get to display is SKY’s policy of operators per AD break. Television, newspapers, radio assaulted by so many gambling companies it’s impossible to avoid. Without these adverts the Racing Post couldn’t exist, in so many ways.
At any time of the day – even when my children are getting ready for school, they’re faced with this insidious material. My Son is a bright fellah, I never talk to him about my business , nor will I encourage him into it. Yet he told me that weeks after he turned 18 he had a Betway account because of interest in E sports. He describes to me how easy it was to open an account and particularly to deposit. In his case using Paypal. He describes how everytime he visits the site he’s encouraged to deposit. How he received regular e mails encouraging him to gamble. How many Betway boosts he encountered offering enhanced odds. How they advertise money back on horse racing, in the form of free bets. Deposit ten pounds, get sixty to play with. And how many free bet offers stretch him to wager in other areas of the website. Most notably gaming. There he reports large winning prize numbers flash on the page, as inducement to wager in that section of the site. He felt many of these offers and refunds were specifically designed to encourage him into more addictive areas of the site. Were this your Son, would you not be more than concerned at his description of such activities?
He also reported seeing Man City at 12/1 from Paddy Power to beat Arsenal today. I’ve seen such examples on many occasion, from a variety of companies. In fact such offers are thoroughly misleading. In fact most offers of this nature pay you the correct odds in cash terms for your wager, and the rest in ‘free bets.’ In said regard, the 12/1 in betting terms as punters understand it, isn’t in any way factual. Punters understand 12/1 to £5 as £60 profit. It’s only once one researches the often complex terms and conditions, that you in fact find that the offer is actually refers to free bets. Coupons for more wagers. Exactly why is such advertising permissable?
Do the operators, peddling such filth, get together to control their output? Clearly not. The same executives who peddle their FOBT wares refusing to agree any cut in televised output, for fear of a non compliant operator jumping into the AD space they’ve left behind. Well lads, a cut is coming. Continue with no self regulation, and I see gambling following tobacco into advertising history. Good riddance.
How many problem gamblers are there in the UK? Let me hazard a more than educated guess.
2 million. That’s two million. Look at the gambling culture, the assault of advertising. Every telly programme and every high street. You’re naive if you think i stuck my finger in the air for effect.
These days therefore we have policies, incepted and encouraged by CEO’s and marketing of large betting concerns, increasing problem gambling to record levels. Want to fund your betting account? There’s a buffet of ways of doing it, to include credit card payments. Money you don’t actually have!
Proliferation of advertising, counter productive promotions, unsustainable pricing structures and avoidance of tax and levy. It’s more than fair to say, looking at recent history, that bookmakers have never been so unpopular with Government, regulators, and critically, their own customers. You can’t blame the regulators, clients or protest groups for their exasperation with this sector of industry.
Whilst the Government has stuck its hand out, for its share of FOBT revenues, I don’t doubt for a second they are deeply uncomfortable with matters we evidence every day. Pressure on Ministers from back benchers with questions in the House are a regular feature. New leadership in Government, and at the Gambling Commission, indeed new experience levels there, has brought fresh impetus to bringing these firms firmly to heel. An important supporter of betting, John Whittingdale, recently leaked what the rest of us had been waiting on for years. That machines in shops were heading for some serious regulation. I welcome that.
Executives at large betting have ignored, or denied the issues for far too long. It’s regrettable of course people will lose jobs, but that’s the price of very necessary control in gamblng. If you’re the Chairman of a large betting company, and you’ve a CEO running about telling everyone they’re all wrong about the requirement for temperance in how you behave, you’d better source a leader fully committed to self regulation. Or you’ll find yourself without a license.
The last chief executive of the Gambling Commission, Jenny Williams, permitted betting to make claims about ‘money back’ offers, which were nothing of the sort, without fear of control. She took the view licensees should know and observe their responsibilities. The ‘cool’ hand of regulation was in fact in absentia. Leave a supergiant to ‘self regulate’ and they’ll announce betting into China as legal, or blitz you with adverts. The new Chief Executive is made of entirely sterner stuff. Those selling alcohol, or cigarettes simply aren’t permitted to approach their customers in a manner condoned by previous administrators. Knowingly offering free bets and hooking clients into more addictive products by offering those wagers conditional on utilising a casino product, is, quite frankly, abhorrent practice.
Adverts simply have to be curtailed. The situation is beyond control right now. Why we suffer this assault to our weaknesses on a daily basis is beyond my comprehension. We don’t permit addictive marketing on our screens. Tobacco and alcohol are out. Why therefore do we bombard our children with Hollywood actors peddling the next goalscorer? It’s obscene, and long overdue for Government and regulators to intervene and put a stop to it. Make certain you add your voice to this important call for reasonable behaviour.
Big betting has to pay for its ills. Hefty fees to the gambling commission certainly for those creating this problem gambling environment, and a very substantial portion of their revenues to be utilised to fund independent research and treatment of problem gamblers. They need to learn how to behave responsibly as businesses. Profit at the expense of people simply isn’t acceptable.
It’s coming. If you’ve shares in these operators, expect a dip. Don’t imagine they can all survive the extra regulatory burden, despite their impressive scale. I see job losses, household betting names disappearing
The real problem gamblers in the UK aren’t the punters. It’s the bookmakers. Pray for regulation.