Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF) Response
Gambling Commission Consultation and Call for Evidence
Remote Customer Interaction Requirements and Guidance
Who we are
The Horseracing Bettors Forum was formed in 2015 with the assistance of the British Horseracing Authority as an official body to represent the interests of horseracing bettors in Britain.
The current forum consists of nine volunteers from all walks of life, including solicitors, journalists and keen racegoers. The group is chaired by Colin Hord, who follows on from original Chair Simon Rowlands and then Matt Bisogno.
The forum meet every quarter and liaise regularly with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB), Gambling Commission (GC), Starting Price Regulatory Committee (SPRC) and other stakeholder groups in racing. In recent years HBF has progressed various issues, including sectional timing, behind closed door racing SPs, accuracy of going reports, wind operations, fixture list reviews, minimum bet liabilities and bookmaker commitment to the protection of funds among others, with the priority being to put forward the view of the average bettor and their day-to-day issues.
Our voluntary status provides an independence by which we are able to put forward arguments for and against various issues, in what we believe to be a sound and logical way. This allows the HBF to be seen as an authoritative organisation that represents the viewpoint of the horseracing bettor.
|Consultation questions: Requirements for specific indicators
7 To what extent do you agree with the proposal that remote operators should be required to conduct affordability assessments at thresholds set by the Commission? Please see the Call for Evidence for questions on the appropriate thresholds.
A. Affordability thresholds and action
Where should thresholds be set for affordability assessments to get the right balance
between consumer freedom and privacy, and consumer protection? We have drawn
together some key evidence and would welcome contributions and views.
About seven million people in Britain reportedly bet annually on at least one horseracing event. HBF believe that there needs to be a proportionate response using evidence-based data to the issues under consideration while guaranteeing that those that are vulnerable or show signs of problem gambling have sufficient checks in place to ensure they do not lose more money than they can afford, or that they are given guidance and help in stopping gambling altogether.
The HBF does not support the introduction of affordability assessments at the proposed level of £100 per month. It has serious concerns that affordability checks will solve the issue of problem gambling and believes that any affordability check, should it be considered absolutely necessary, should be at a significantly higher amount. The HBF believe that betting on horseracing and gambling on casino games should be treated separately.
Since 99.5% of those who gamble show no signs of problem gambling, we believe that making potentially millions of bettors have to undergo affordability checks will dissuade many from continuing with this pursuit, which will in turn have a significant impact on the sport of horse racing, which, unlike many other sports, receives significant funding (~£90M) from bookmakers as part of the Horserace Betting Levy. Initial estimates project a £20m reduction in Horserace Betting Levy Board funds if affordability checks at a level of £100 monthly loss are brought in.
Gambling Act 2005 Review
It is also noted that the Government are undertaking a review of the Gambling Act 2005 of which one element is to establish “what evidence there is of whether any such limits should be on a universal basis or targeted at individuals based on affordability or other considerations”. The HBF believe that such a fundamental matter is for Government to decide and suggest that this topic is revisited once the Gambling Act review has been completed.
Easy avoidance of affordability checks
While the intentions of affordability checks are noble, there are numerous ways in which gamblers can relatively easily avoid them: for example, by opening several accounts across different online bookmakers, by opening proxy accounts via friends and family, by betting on the high street and on the racecourse in anonymity, and by betting with illegal bookmakers online and/or unregulated overseas operators.
Sweden provided the main case study of how over-stringent regulation can force customers to the black market. On 1st January 2019 Sweden introduced restrictive loss limits which drove customers away from regulated operators into the black market, with claims that within 12 months between 40% and 70% of transactions were now being placed with black market unregulated operators. Betting with unlicensed operators allows trading with under 18s, no Know Your Customer checks, no responsible gambling tools (deposit limits, time outs, reality checks, self-exclusion or intervention mechanics), and would make no contribution to the UK Exchequer. Additionally, PWC research revealed 200,000 UK based gamblers used an unlicensed gambling operator in a 12-month period between 2018 and 2019, staking circa £1.4bn. Unregulated operators handled 2.5% of all visits to betting websites.
By moving customers into the black market bettors are offered no protection over disputes or with deposited funds, and loses taxation to the Government and Levy back to Horse Racing.
Demarcation between sports and horseracing betting and casino gaming
HBF believe that there needs to be a demarcation between sports and horseracing betting and online casino gaming, i.e. games of chance (roulette, slots, virtual racing etc.). It is understood that affordability checks in Finland and Sweden have been introduced for gaming products only. The HBF believe that, as the high street bookmakers have slowly transformed themselves into online casino operators, the difference between skill-based betting and gambling has been lost. It is the opinion of the HBF that players who wish to bet on horse and sports racing should have a separate account to those who wish to play on casino and other games of chance. This would reflect the position when high street bookmakers took bets and casinos provided the opportunity for players to gamble.
Horseracing betting an aspirational pastime for millions
For many people, betting on horseracing is an enjoyable pastime, because, with time and effort, the player can develop skill that enables them to take a profit or at least lose an easily affordable amount. Horseracing betting for many is a cerebral activity that is challenging and enjoyable, and which has an aspirational element of deriving a profit. The sport has its own daily newspaper, online form guides, statistical data bases etc which all provide bettors with information that enables them to weigh up the probability of a horse winning and to assess the odds that are being offered, and to decide if they are sufficient to warrant a wager. The odds for a horse or sports event vary and depend on the opinion of the bookmaker’s odds compiler. By contrast, casino gaming is fixed odds betting in which the house has a built-in advantage: over time the house will always win and the player will always lose.
All bettors will be familiar with losing runs during which all their bets lose without backing a winner. The length of these runs can be determined statistically and will, of course, vary by the price of the selection and the skill of the bettor.
We have used the term maximum drawdown, which is the worst cumulative loss over a series of bets. It is possible to assess the maximum drawdown by simulating sequences of bets a large number of times.
The example below shows the result of 100,000 simulations of a bettor having 100 bets at 3/1. The bettor is unskilled and so we would expect them to lose about 10% of their stakes. This is derived from the average returns from horses starting at 3/1 in British racing 2015-2020. In this simulation they place 100 bets of £2 each over a month. The result shows that there is 1% chance of them losing £100 before they reach the last of their 100 bets when betting at 3/1.
However, if the bettor bets at 6/1, at which level an unskilled bettor will lose about 15% of their stakes on average, the result is that 9% of these bettors will lose over £100 betting £2 before they get to their 100th bet.
The average bet is ~£5 so using this as the stake we find that for a bettor who is going to have 40 £5 bets in a month. At 3/1 10% of these bettors will lose £100 before their 40th bet. At 6/1 20% of these bettors will be losing more than £100 before they reach their 40th bet. It is also worth noting that, for some players, if they continue to bet even after losing £100 they will return a net loss of less than £100 within the month and would avoid the affordability check, whereas once a player reaches a £100 loss the affordability check would be imposed.
The results show that players who have limited skill are on occasion likely to lose more than £100 per month betting small stakes at relatively low odds. Bettors who play small stakes at higher odds are even more likely to encounter longer losing runs that again could mean they reach the affordability check limit.
Ante Post Betting
Ante-post betting is a bet placed on a horse, before the day of race market has opened, and is made in the expectation that the price of the horse will be more favourable than come the day-of-race market. This type of betting carries the risk that if the horse fails to run in the selected race the bet is lost.
Many bettors enjoy this form of betting, as it provides an interest over time leading up to the event. While racing has ante-post markets all year round, it is particularly popular in the run up to the Cheltenham Festival in March. Many people view this as horse racing’s Olympics and start betting for the next festival often a year in advance.
Once an ante-post bet is struck the stake is withdrawn from the players account and resides with the bookmaker until the event takes place and the bets are settled. Consequently, monies are tied up for a long period without return. As the season progresses bettors may want to increase their ante-post betting portfolio as they see different horses run, often wanting to bet on multiple horses in each of the 28 races. This kind of betting often requires money to be regularly deposited with bookmakers throughout the winter months with no chance of a pay out until March. In this case the bets have not been settled but a player may be considered to have lost this stake. Again, if they bet, say, more than £100 in a month on ante-post markets they would have to undergo affordability checks. HBF believe that many players would cease betting ante-post if affordability checks were introduced in this case.
Betting on horseracing, as with other sports, is carried out in a variety of ways, from the traditional bets with a bookmaker or Tote to Spread Betting and the Betting Exchanges. Popularity in the latter two forms of betting has grown with the digital age to the point where ordinary races regularly attract a six-figure betting turnover on Betfair. Betting Exchanges allow ordinary bettors to back horses to win or lay them to lose, just like a bookmaker. Bettors are betting against each other and the exchange is a market where backers and layers come together. This opens various opportunities that work more like investing: for example, laying a horse at low odds and backing the same horse for a smaller amount at higher odds to lock in a profit. This is very similar to investing in shares on the stock market and the laying and backing can be done at any point before or during the race: that is, it is possible to lock in a profit before the race has even been run. Commonly, bettors will lay several horses in a race in the knowledge that only one can win and with the aim of the stakes taken on the losers more than covering what has to be paid out on the winner, assuming that this horse has also been laid. Therefore, there is a real risk of Exchange bettors being disproportionately disadvantaged by affordability thresholds because they need to keep a much higher amount of money in their accounts than they are actually intending to risk. The first bet laid is the key issue, for example if a bettor lays a 5/1 shot for £20, they must have a balance of at least £100 in their account to cover the potential winnings at that point, one of the lower affordability check thresholds suggested. Every subsequent horse the bettor lays in the same race will reduce that liability providing any winnings they have to pay out do not exceed £100. Another important function of the exchange is the ability to hedge bets. Bettors will lay horses on an Exchange that they have backed to win with a bookmaker. An example would be a bettor who has several winners in a small stake win multiple bet and in order to guarantee a profit will lay the last selection to lose on the Exchange. In such instances the bettor may wish to lay that horse to a large sum and possibly be quite happy if they lose the money on the Exchange, because they will be profiting overall from the multiple bet with the bookmaker. The loss on the Exchange could easily trigger an affordability threshold even though the bettor actually profited from the race. This type of laying horses to lose in order to lock in profits from win bets is viewed by some as responsible betting in its purest form, because it avoids a loss. If affordability check thresholds do become a reality it is important that proper consideration is given to Exchange bettors to ensure they are not disproportionately affected.
Spread Betting works in a way very similar to investing on the stock market, with bettors buying or selling against the bookmakers’ prediction of the result. Winnings or losses are calculated on the difference between the predicted and actual results. This can carry a high level of risk, but that can be managed through setting ‘Stop Loss’ measures. The betting medium is viewed as being complex amongst bettors generally and it therefore appeals most to those who really understand it and the risks involved. Their bets are placed carefully and the element of risk calculated, with affordability being a natural consideration as part of the bet placing process.
Cross fertilisation of betting products with casino gaming products
Gaming products are considerably more profitable than horse racing betting for operators, and, as such, those operators are keen for sports’ and horseracing players to gamble in the casino, virtual racing and on other games of chance, often offering free spins, free entries into tournaments etc etc. The ease by which a player can be tempted to play is shown on the following screen shot which shows a variety of casino games being advertised alongside a horserace betting show. The House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry Report of Session 2019–21 HL Paper 79 Gambling Harm— Time for Action recommended that as a licence conditions the Gambling Commission should require the proportion of the stake retained by the house to be displayed prominently and clearly, in simple terms, on each gaming machine in all gambling premises, and in remote gambling. The HBF believe that having this information in an easily understandable manner would assist many players to decide which games of chance they wish to play.
The HBF notes that the GC consultation states that an affordability limit of £100 per month would capture 17% of online slots players and 9% of non-slots (casino games excluding poker). This analysis did not look at sports or horse racing and adds weight to the argument that bookmakers should separate casino gaming accounts and sports betting accounts. Again, the Consultation notes that a limited data trial from the industry indicates that within a given month approximately 15% of active customers lose more than £150 and 2% lose more than £1,000 per month. However, there are no figures comparing losses between horse and sports betting and casino gaming.
HBF Twitter Poll
The HBF undertook a Twitter poll over 24 hours on the 15th December 2020 which asked followers of HBF what they thought the thresholds for affordability checks on losses per month should be. 248 people answered the poll, which showed that 75% wanted none, 19% £500 and 6% £100 per month.
Lack of data related to horseracing betting and problem gambling
The 2018 Health Survey for England showed that problem gambler levels for those that play games of chance are greater than for those who bet on sports and horseracing. The HBF believe that further studies are required to ensure that comparable statistics are being provided. The HBF would like to see significantly more data in the public domain that allows policy makers and regulators to make the assessment for affordability checks. HBF also calls on the gambling industry to allow independent scrutiny of their own data that will provide evidence towards this issue. HBF backs the use of all evidence-based research and proven outcomes.
HBF believes the horseracing bettor needs to be viewed in a different light, and under a different risk framework, to the gaming customer who is focused on the quick adrenaline buzz of the spin of a slot or the turn of a roulette wheel. Horseracing is a skill-based pursuit and not a game of chance where operators work off a strict (Return To Player) RTP calculation on all games.
Problem gamblers, or those with the propensity to fit in the risk category for problem gambling, should be the starting point for limits or affordability checks. The Health Survey for England – published in 2018, and the most recent prevalence survey – showed the number of activities a customer gambles on to be the highest indicator of a person’s propensity to be at risk of gambling harms:
Whilst the above evidence clearly does not exclude horseracing as being an activity of harm, it is important to ensure that the customer whose principal activity is focused on skill-based horseracing gambling is viewed at a different risk level to the gambler who, basically, bets on anything which is available to bet on. The gambler who will bet on anything is clearly an adrenaline junkie who wants the continual buzz of betting. The problem gambler does not rely on skill, they merely want the emotional experience of gambling.
The table below shows the percentage of problem gamblers that bet on a particular discipline, not as a percentage of the population. This shows that despite the strong participation figures, above (horse races 4%, casino games 1.5%) , the problem gambling rates for horseracing were low compared to casino style gambling. The data below is from the 2018 Health Survey.
The Gambling Commission’s own Gambling Participation data provides a further breakdown of what participants are betting on.
|8 To what extent do you agree with the proposed requirement that remote operators must implement processes to take action where there are indicators of other forms of vulnerability (elevating this issue from guidance to requirements)? Please see the Call for Evidence for questions on experiences of vulnerability and what operators should do in response.
B. Protecting consumers in a vulnerable situation
How should operators be required and given guidance to minimise the risk of harm
for consumers in a vulnerable situation? We have drawn on work in other sectors,
and would welcome views on the relevance of these measures in gambling.
Operator account monitoring
Operators have many facilities to monitor clients’ activities. Systems and procedures have been put in place by the Operators for those who bet on horseracing and show significant skill either by winning, or by showing the traits of a winning bettor. These players will likely have their bookmaker accounts restricted such that they can only bet small stakes on selections, in some cases this may be as low as a few pence. These restrictions are applied for some after only a few bets are placed and for most after winning a few hundred pounds. The UK bookmakers operate a “soft” book in which they offer bonuses and concessions to make losing less painful for players, but those who utilise these offers and make a profit are soon shown the “winners not welcome” sign. It can be argued that if bookmakers can easily identify winning players then they can just as easily identify those players that are likely to become problem gamblers.
The HBF believe that if they so desired the Operators could today put in place stop-loss limits which restrict players to small stakes once a certain loss limit had been breached. Once this has occurred then players should have to provide affordability information. This could be a first step that is introduced before affordability limits for all players are introduced.
Operators may propose that online account information is shared between them. However, the HBF is concerned, as is the Information Commissioner, that breaches in the GDPR regulation will occur if implemented as per the current Single Customer View initiative.
We believe the gambling industry has been far too focused on encouraging losers to continue to play. Greater effort needs to be made on assisting those who exhibit problem gambling traits. There should be greater assistance and explanation about betting and gaming that players use.
|9 To what extent do you agree with the proposal that remote operators must implement actions in relation to time spent gambling which are linked to the nature of the gambling provided? Please see the Call for Evidence for questions on experiences of vulnerability and what operators should do in response.
C. Time spent gambling thresholds and action
Whilst the financial impact of gambling is significant, time spent gambling can be an
indicator of harm. Our 12 May additional guidance stated that remote operators
should consider forms of interaction after 1 hour of play. How can we learn from what
operators have done and tailor action for different products?
There is a significant difference in the time spent gambling between those betting on events such as horse racing and sports and those playing casino games. Horse races are specific events that take place during the day: there are a finite number of races, and even at the busiest times there are usually a few minutes between races. We note that a number of companies now insist that a player clicks a banner to stay logged in whether they have had a bet or not. We don’t see this as providing any value whatsoever. Many bookmaker sites now offer the facility to watch horseracing on their site provided the player is logged in: again, there is no requirement to bet, but a player could be logged in for over 4 hours just to watch one horseracing fixture.
We see no need to have regulations in place for time spent betting on horse racing. Again, this assumes that the longer someone spends gambling the more they lose. This is not necessarily the case for sports and horseracing betting, in which sphere skill by the player can overcome the bookmaker’s advantage.
In this case we note that the question again treats betting and gaming as synonymous, and we call for distinctions to be made between the two.
|Consultation questions: Evaluate
13 To what extent do you agree with the proposal to strengthen the existing requirement by specifying that remote operators must implement processes to understand the impact of their actions on individual consumers?
HBF believe that many operators have been slow in bringing in procedures that diminish the risk of players becoming problem gamblers. However, there have been significant changes in the industry over the last 12 months or so and for that reason there needs to be a period whereby the Gambling Commission can assess how successful these changes have been. These now require the Operator to provide deposit limits, time played and a self-exclusion function. In addition, many Operators have introduced other responsible gambling tools through the safer gambling initiative. These now allow players to see a profit and loss statement, to undertake self-assessment questionnaires, to take time outs, and to have reality checks.
For that reason we believe that any affordability checks should not be introduced until the Gambling Act review has been undertaken, especially as this review is also considering this issue.
|14 To what extent do you agree that operators must take all reasonable steps to assess overall effectiveness of their measures?|
The Operators need to develop a culture within their companies that puts the welfare of their customers at the heart of their business much like an airline puts safety of their crews and passengers at the heart of their operation. While making a profit is an essential part of any business this needs to be attained in a responsible manner.
|15 Do you have any comments on the proposed requirements to evaluate effectiveness?|
There needs to be an industry-wide agreement of what is a problem gambler. Once this has been agreed, the effectiveness can then be measured.
|D. Preventing marketing and the take-up of bonus offers
27 In what specific circumstances (if any) should the Commission require as a minimum that
operators prevent marketing and the take-up of bonus offers?
28 Are there any circumstances where it would be unfair to consumers to prevent them
receiving bonus offers even when there are signs of harm? For example, this could relate to
bonus offers which a customer has part-earned or they are expecting to receive as it is available
to all customers.
Most Operators restrict the provision of bonus offers to bettors that have won or shown the traits of a winning bettor, so again there are systems and procedures in place that can be introduced with relative ease.
|E. Impact and unintended consequences
29 How can the Commission measure the impact of the changes, and what can be done
to minimise the risk of unintended consequences?
30 How could these unintended consequences be mitigated most effectively?
We believe that a reduction in horse racing betting would have significant ramifications for the horse racing industry, by lowering prize money (provided by the Horseracing Betting Levy Board) and other incomes to racecourses from Operators that result from media rights and sponsorship. As a consequence this would likely reduce the horse population, reduce jobs in the UK industry, which would damage the UK economy. Horseracing bettors would likely bet on horseracing abroad, which again reduces the benefit to domestic horseracing.
|Call for Evidence questions: Next steps
35 Do you have any comments on the Commission’s next steps?
36 Do you have any other comments on any aspect of this consultation and call for evidence?
considering what the economic impact of these changes would be on businesses?
HBF believe that fundamental changes such as how an individual spends their money and the level of State intervention placed on such a matter should be a matter for Government through debate in Parliament. For this reason, affordability checks should not be brought in until the Gambling Act review is completed.
In summary the HBF believe that affordability checks should not be introduced. The main reasons being as follows:
- The Government has announced a review of the Gambling Act 2005 in which it wants to assess affordability checks: HBF believes that introduction of such checks is a matter for Parliamentary debate and ultimate decision by the Government.
- Any checks will be easily avoided by using different online bookmakers, using proxy accounts set up by friends and family, betting on the high street or the racecourse in anonymity and potentially moving bettors to illegal bookmakers online and/or unregulated overseas operators, resulting in a loss of tax and levy income.
- HBF believe that there needs to be a demarcation between betting on horseracing (and other sports) and online casino gaming, i.e. games of chance (roulette, slots, virtual racing etc.). The odds for a horse or sports event vary and depend on the opinion of the bookmaker’s odds compiler, whereas casino gaming is fixed odds betting in which the house has a built-in advantage. The horseracing bettor operates under a different risk framework to the gaming customer who is focused on the quick adrenaline buzz of the spin of a slot or the turn of the roulette wheel.
- For many people, betting on horseracing is an enjoyable pastime, because, with time and effort, the player can develop skill that enables them to take a profit or at least lose an easily affordable amount. Horseracing betting for many is a cerebral activity that is challenging and enjoyable with an aspirational element of deriving a profit. A loss of betting revenue will have significant impact on UK horseracing.
- The proposed limits are extremely low and would likely include small stakes players who encounter a losing run. Even those betting £5 stakes would have a 20% chance of losing £100 in a month if betting horses to win at 6/1. Betting Exchange and Spread Betting customers could also fall into affordability checks if they have liabilities of greater than £100 per month and have to deposit additional funds even though they may not have lost. Similarly, the ante-post bettor may be creating an ante post portfolio for an event that does not take place that month.
- We also believe that there should be a reduction in cross fertilisation of casino games with those who bet on sports and horseracing and that steps should be taken to make players more aware of the house edge in casino games.
- HBF believe that Operators should be putting the welfare of their customers at the centre of their businesses just like an airline puts safety at the heart of their business. Safer gambling tools that have recently been required should be evaluated before affordability checks are imposed. The operators should create tools and procedures that can identify those that have, or are likely to have, gambling problems. After all, the Operators can easily spot those bettors who show skill!