Labour peer Lipsey slams affordability checks

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Lord Lipsey argued that the checks – as they are currently being contemplated by the Gambling Commission – will work to damage greyhound racing by imposing intrusive checks on high-spend customers, which he argues will then “simply disappear”.

The former Economist’s Bagehot columnist highlighted the voluntary levy on bookmakers which helps support British greyhound racing. The British Greyhound Racing Fund collects the levy. Most bookmakers in the sport pay it as a voluntary contribution.

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Lipsey said the majority (51.4%) of money raised by the levy goes towards the British Greyhound Racing Fund (BGRF). Another 19% heads towards regulation, Lipsey continued.

He added that the levy’s total has been declining in real terms for the past decade. The total has fallen in inflation-adjusted figures from £11m in 2012-13 to £8.2m in July 2023.

“Premier Greyhound Racing has no independent evidence on the impact of the proposed crackdown on affordability proposed by the Commission,” said Lipsey. “However, greyhound racing, like horse racing, has some heavy hitter punters who would plausibly be put off betting on greyhounds if they were subject to onerous affordability checks.”

Lipsey pointed to his own experience attempting to place bets as a Politically Exposed Person. He said it took 32 emails being exchanged before he was able to keep his account.

He added that, while he had received assurances from ministers that the checks would be seamless, the Commission’s consultation paper admits 2%-3% of punters may be subject to intrusive checks.

“These will almost by definition be the big punters,” said Lipsey. “Big punters are a mix of those with gambling problems and those who just enjoy a good bet. Greyhound racing like horseracing has done everything it can to encourage safer betting.

“But if the Gambling Commission insists on probing big punters, they will simply disappear. Some will go to the black market. Some will seek their kicks elsewhere.”

Debate around affordability checks rages on

Lipsey’s comments are the latest contributions to the increasingly contentious debate around proposed affordability checks.

These are often also termed financial risk checks. The government proposed the measures in the Gambling Act review white paper. The white paper put the provision out to a consultation, which closed yesterday.

As contemplated in the white paper, “hard” checks could kick in with a £1,000 spend in 24 hours or £2,000 in 90 days.

These have proved enormously controversial in the racing sector and certain sections of British politics. Several MPs have written opinion pieces criticising the measures.

A minor controversy erupted in September, when Commission executive director Tim Miller suggested during an appearance at the DCMS gambling regulation select committee that punter postcodes would influence these checks.

In a recent speech, Commission chief Andrew Rhodes hit back at what he called “misinformation” in the media about affordability checks.

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